Stinking it up in the AL Central

Gordon Edes
Yahoo! Sports

He scouts for an American League Central team and couldn't hide the disgust in his voice.

Someone had just mentioned to him that Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had said the White Sox were a "horse(expletive) team" after closer Bobby Jenks(notes) blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning Thursday at Seattle by giving up home runs to Jose Lopez(notes) and Bill Hall(notes), and the Mariners bullpen rang up a total of 8 1/3 scoreless innings before the M's won in the 14th.

"He's right,'' said the scout, who didn't want his name to be used. "That's absurd, to lose a game like that. But what are you going to do? It's been a tough year for the White Sox, one they'd like to forget.

"I'll tell you what, nobody deserves to win in our division, and I hope whoever does win is eliminated in the first round in three games. Because if they somehow end up winning, that will just go to prove it makes no difference if you're good enough to win 100 games in the regular season.''

Cut to Minneapolis. The Minnesota Twins, who haven't been in first place since May 14, trailed the Detroit Tigers by seven games as recently as Sept. 6, and have had just one winning month all season, pulled to within three games of the Tigers after a 3-1 win Friday night in the Dome.

The Tigers have lost 8 of their last 11 games, a stretch that includes being swept at the pitiful Kansas City Royals, then losing two out of three to the Royals back home. "Not a good sign,'' manager Jim Leyland said.

The Tigers this season have allowed more runs (673) than they've scored (670). Contrast that to the Yankees, who have a run differential of plus-148 (845-697). Detroit began the night ranked 11th in the league in runs scored, has just one .300 hitter (Miguel Cabrera(notes)) and has a 14-21 record in blowouts (games decided by five or more runs). The Tigers have a combined 2-11 record against the best two teams in the East, the Yankees and Red Sox, and were outscored 72-38 in those games. They are a .500 team (30-30) since the All-Star break and now have lost eight of 12 to their closest pursuers, the Twins, with six more games remaining between the teams.

Detroit has its ace, Cy Young Award candidate Justin Verlander(notes), going Saturday, but if he loses, look out. Jarrod Washburn(notes), who is 1-3 with a 7.33 ERA since coming over from Seattle in a trade, has been scratched from his scheduled start Sunday because of a bad knee. Nate Robertson(notes), who had been out with a pelvic inflammation, is starting in his spot.

The Twins, a sub-.500 team when they lost Justin Morneau(notes) with a stress fracture in his lower back, have won five straight without their slugging first baseman and are an incongruous 10-2 this season when he has been out. Their young starting pitching, supposedly a team strength, took a big step backward this season, with a staff ERA of 4.57 ranking 11th in the league coming into Friday night's game. They're relying on a rookie, Brian Duensing(notes), who won Friday night, and a castoff, Carl Pavano(notes), who goes against Verlander on Saturday.

And they've been just as bad against the Yankees and Red Sox as the Tigers. They also were 2-11, including an 0-7 record against the Bombers, and were outscored 71-44 in those 13 games.

The defending champion White Sox, meanwhile, lived up to their manager's assessment of them Friday night and were crushed 11-0 by the Royals. They are six games worse than .500 (27-33) since the break.

This, then, is what passes for baseball's only division race this September – and it's not a pretty sight.


Euro currency rises: Former big league pitcher Bruce Hurst has done it for the last 10 summers now, packing up and heading to Tirrenia, the Italian beach town close to Pisa, in the heart of Tuscany. The water is warm, the food is fabulous, and the sightseeing unforgettable.

But this was no vacation for Hurst. The former left-hander for the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres has spent a decade serving on the staff of the European Baseball Academy operated by Major League Baseball for nearly three weeks every August. The academy is held at the Italian Olympic training site in Tirrenia, and there were 55 players, ages 15 to 19, selected from tryout camps held all over Europe and in Africa.

Adei Benard was a 19-year-old right-hander from Uganda. Ulf Eisenhuth was a 17-year-old catcher from Spain. Mirco Caradonna was a 17-year-old shortstop from Italy. In all, 12 countries were represented, with the Netherlands and host Italy sending the most.

Their instructors, in addition to Hurst, included former Mariners manager John McLaren, former All-Star closer Lee Smith, Hall of Famer Rod Carew, former Cincinnati Reds All-Star Barry Larkin, and ex-big leaguers Garth Iorg, Wally Joyner and Brent Mayne.

"We've had somewhere around 35 kids signed by major-league organizations,'' Hurst said. "This is starting to pay dividends.''

For proof, check out Alex Liddi, the first Italian-born player to go from the academy to pro ball in the U.S. Liddi, signed by the Mariners in 2005, is a 21-year-old third baseman who had a breakout season this year for High Desert in the Class-A California League, winning the league MVP by batting .345 with 23 home runs, 44 doubles and 104 RBIs. He led all Mariners minor leaguers in hitting.

There are others: Tom Stuifbergen, the right-hander who started for the Netherlands in their stunning upset of the Dominican Republic in the WBC, was in A ball with the Twins; Italian pitcher Alex Maestri pitched out of the bullpen for the Cubs in Double A, and Jennell Hudson, a 19-year-old pitcher who made 10 relief appearances for the Red Sox in the Gulf Coast League and is the first European signed by Boston since John W. Henry became owner.

And in July, the Pirates signed 16-year-old Dovydas Neverauskas, a right-handed pitcher from Vilnius, Lithuania, the first Lithuanian-born player to sign with a big-league team. Neverauskas was the star of a Lithuanian team that played an exhibition tour in the U.S. this summer.

Cutting corners: If you want to understand which teams run the bases well, you have to look beyond the stolen base leaders. Ari Kaplan, the Caltech-trained statistical analyst, big-league consultant and webmaster (, took a look at which teams are best at going from first to third base on a single.

Coming into play this week, Kaplan found that the Angels, known as an aggressive team on the basepaths, lead with the highest percentage of going from first to third on a single (with no runner on second): 31.2 percent of the time (84 of 269 chances). Baltimore is next at 30.5 percent (76 of 249 chances). Then Colorado at 29.5 percent (54 of 183 chances). On the bottom is Kansas City with 18.1 percent (42 of 232 chances).

Chone Figgins(notes) of the Angels led all players in going from first to third on a single, doing so 52 percent of the time (26 of 50) without being thrown out. That includes 4 of 11 advances on balls hit to left. Erick Aybar(notes) of the Angels was next at 50 percent with 20 advances in 40 chances, with Shane Victorino(notes) of the Phillies third at 38.5 percent (20 of 52).

On the bottom, Daric Barton(notes) of the Athletics never went first to third in 18 chances. Neither did Jack Hannahan(notes), who split the season between the Athletics and Mariners and was 0 for 14. Magglio Ordonez(notes) of the Tigers was 1 for 26, Bengie Molina(notes) of the Giants 1 for 23, and David Ortiz(notes) of the Red Sox and Aramis Ramirez(notes) of the Cubs were 1 for 22.

Fungo hitting: One major league scout who attended Pedro Martinez's(notes) 1-0 win over the Mets last Sunday was astounded by his pitch count, 130, his highest in a regular-season game since throwing 136 against the Mariners on May 1, 2001. But this was even more amazing: "He looked as good as he ever looked,'' the scout said. "Just blazing away. He hit 93, and that may have been with his 130th pitch.'' The same scout saw Cliff Lee(notes) a couple of nights later throw a complete-game shutout against the Nationals and said he was "magnificent." Added the scout: "That's 12 wins from those two guys (Lee and Martinez). Where would the Phillies be without 'em. Ruben (Amaro, the Phillies GM) has done a great job.'' … Don't put too much stock in speculation that Bobby Cox won't be back to manage the Braves next season. Cox told me a couple of weeks ago he loves managing as much as ever, and the Braves aren't yet at the stage where they'd suggest he retire. Especially with the Braves playing as well as they have in the last week-plus. Chipper Jones(notes), though, may have to take a hard look at the work he needs to do if he wants to bounce back from a disappointing performance this season.

What to Read Next