April 14, 2009
There's not much you can count on in today's crazy world of MLB, but Rangers Ballpark at Arlington has turned into a safe investment if you're looking for offensive goodies. The ball jumps in this yard, especially in right field, and no lead is ever really safe. We've already seen 62 runs scored in just four Arlington ballgames – that's why friends don't let friends own Kevin Millwood, no matter how sharp he's looked over his first two starts. They sure grow some big stats down there in Texas, podner.
Baltimore outlasted Texas on Monday night in another keg-tapper, 10-9, but the initial fantasy news comes from the losing end of things. Chris Davis finally got in on the Arlington fun, ripping three hits including a 423-foot homer. He wasn't even supposed to be in the lineup (a 1-for-22 slump will do that), but Hank Blalock's stiff neck forced an adjustment right before game-time. Andruw Jones also homered for the Rangers and is off to a 5-for-8 start with his new club; there's no sign that he'll start getting regular playing time, but he's shown enough that Ron Washington has to try him 2-3 times a week at least (and not just against lefties).
As for the victorious Orioles, most of the damage came from their universally-owned Fab Four at the front of the lineup (Brian Roberts, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Aubrey Huff); that group combined for seven runs, 10 hits and seven RBIs on Monday and they're all hitting .346 or better. The underrated lineup has 43 runs through seven games, a big reason why the O's are 5-2. (If Jones isn't owned in your league, you really don't need my help – you need a more competitive group to compete against.)
George Sherrill had a rocky time of it in the ninth (one hit, one walk), but a baserunning gaffe by Ian Kinsler helped steer him through. There's a lot of Chris Ray money out on the street, but Sherrill is already 3-for-3 on save chances.
• Spin the wheel and pick a closer in St. Louis – Monday night the pointer landed to veteran Ryan Franklin. He certainly wasn't overpowering in Arizona, allowing three medium-depth fly balls, but his teammates caught them and that's all that matters. Kyle McClellan (two outs) and Dennys Reyes (one out) worked the eighth in support of Todd Wellemeyer (seven excellent innings), and the plan is for Jason Motte to work in low-leverage situations while he gets his confidence back.
• Being a fly-ball pitcher isn't such a bad thing in Wrigley when the wind is gusting in, as Ted Lilly reminded everyone Monday afternoon. The power lefty struck out eight and got 10 more fly-ball outs en route to 6.2 scoreless frames against Colorado (just three baserunners). Ubaldo Jimenez never got comfortable on the other side, running up 104 pitches in just 3.2 innings of work. The Cubs had him constantly in trouble, but somehow managed just three runs against him (more than enough on this day, as it turned out).
Kevin Gregg worked the ninth for the Cubs and had his good stuff (three whiffs), but his save chance was counterfeited when the hosts pushed across a run in the bottom of the eighth. Carlos Marmol, for what it's worth, had the day off.
• There wasn't a lot of bite to Mike Pelfrey's fastball and he couldn't really locate his other pitches Monday, and the result was a messy line (5 IP, 8 H, 5 R) against the pedestrian Padres lineup. We'll see if he can keep the ball in the park this weekend against Milwaukee; Pelfrey's already allowed three homers this year after giving up just 12 last season. It will be interesting to see how the Mets handle their outfield defense this season in their roomy new ballpark; Carlos Beltran remains an excellent center fielder, but Daniel Murphy is spotty in left, Ryan Church isn't going to make anyone forget Roberto Clemente in right, and Gary Sheffield (set to start Wednesday) is going to be a carnival anytime he takes glove in hand.
• When Nick Swisher is the only Yankees pitcher to come through on the mound, you know it couldn't have been much of a night for the Bronx Bombers. Chien-Ming Wang was hammered by the Rays (eight runs in 1-plus innings) and things didn't get much better after that; while the Yankees surely miss Mark Teixeira (wrist) and Alex Rodriguez (hip), this team has other problems to deal with. B.J. Upton celebrated his return to action with a zesty 3-2-1-0 line (three walks, two steals), Carlos Pena collected a homer and six RBIs, and Jason Bartlett had three hits, a homer and a steal. It's a shame A-Rod wasn't playing Monday night, surely he would have homered in the final inning to close the deficit to nine.
• Boston's Jon Lester is one of those pitchers who saw a heavy workload jump in 2008 (like New York's Pelfrey), and you have to wonder if it's having a carryover effect into this year. He was knocked around for the second straight turn Monday at Oakland (6 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 2 HR), and it was surprising to see many of Oakland's left-handed batters looking comfortable against Lester (Jack Cust hit one of the two homers). Dallas Braden didn't knock anyone's socks off on the other side (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 3 K), but he did log his second quality start of the year, and hey, he picked up a win.
• Another three hits for Freddy Sanchez, who looks comfortable hitting in Pittsburgh's No. 2 slot. He's never going to be a big power guy, but I wouldn't be surprised if he made a run at another batting title. Adam LaRoche's start (two homers, .231 average) might not sound like much, but keep in mind this guy normally doesn't hit a lick in April. Zach Duke was brilliant Monday (four-hit shutout) on the heels of a solid opener at St. Louis; are you buying it, or too badly burned from the last three years? I'm not making any moves, but I will scout his Sunday turn against Atlanta with much interest.
• Randy Johnson was taken deep by Yovani Gallardo last week and on Monday the Dodgers got a couple of dingers off him – Orlando Hudson and Andre Ethier (his first of two) – en route to a blowout victory. I'm not dialing up the Big Unit against Arizona Sunday. Cy Young sleeper Chad Billingsley toyed with the Giants over seven innings, allowing just five hits and one run while striking out 11.
Handshakes: It probably was the smoothest day of the year for closers and save chances – even with 13 games on the docket, we didn't have any blowups. B.J. Ryan allowed a couple of hits in Minnesota but got out of the mess; Scott Downs retired three of four men in the previous inning. … Joakim Soria stranded two runners and struck out two, saving it for Zack Greinke (five scoreless, nine whiffs). … Francisco Cordero's arm looked live in a scoreless frame at Milwaukee. … Heath Bell worked a clean inning in New York, racking up save No. 4. … Brad Lidge allowed a two-run bomb to Ryan Zimmerman in the ninth (and Cristian Guzman's fifth hit of the day), but that's not a big deal when you start with a three-run lead. … Even stoppers working in the dreaded "non-save situation" seemed to keep their focus; Francisco Rodriguez and Brad Ziegler both got a clean inning of work in.
Goodbye to two friends: I don't know where to start with today's tragic losses, Harry Kalas and Mark Fidrych. No script, I'm just going to empty out my heart and my mind and explain why I've been down all day (throw in the Nick Adenhart tragedy and baseball fans keep getting hit with emotional haymakers; this needs to stop). If you came here merely for the stats and the roto stories, please skip this and forgive me for writing it.
I worshipped Kalas, simple as that; many nights growing up in New England in the 80s, I'd drive around on a clear evening and listen to his legendary voice. His football work was outstanding too; replacing John Facenda as the voice of NFL Films was an impossible task but Harry hit it out of the park. Kalas was a titan and a kind man by all accounts, you don't meet too many like him. I'd put him on the Mount Rushmore of Announcers, right next to Vin Scully. After each of Philadelphia's three homers Monday, I did my best Kalas "outta here" impression and thought about how much I'm going to miss this friend of mine that I never really met.
I was perhaps a year too young to fully appreciate the Fidrych emergence as it happened but I devoured the stories as any baseball fan does. I loved the tale of the Detroit fan who snuck into the park to see The Bird, then later paid the team out of guilt because he had the time of his life at Tiger Stadium that night. Just two days ago I caught the replay of Fidrych beating the Yanks on Monday Night Baseball, a rock concert and love-in disguised as a baseball game. Such an innocent he was, such an exuberance to him, how could you not get swept up in it? May we all carry the same zest for living with us, for all of our days.