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Archive for November, 2008

Utley, Feliz to Have Surgery: Who’s on 2nd?

Friday, November 21st, 2008

                Chase Utley       Tad Iguchi

Yeah, Yeah, I know — Who’s on 1st in that old Abbott and Costello skit.

Phillies All Star 2nd baseman Chase Utley and 3rd baseman Pedro Feliz are slated for hip and back surgery respectively.

Associated Press Writer Randy Pennell reports for Yahoo sports on Feliz;

Having surgery [this past] Thursday on his back. He spent 26 days on the disabled list last season with a lower back injury. The operation will be followed by an eight-to-12 week rehabilitation program.

Feliz hit .249 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs after joining the Phillies as a free agent before the season.

Therefore, it appears that the 3rd baseman should be ready to hit the ground running during 2009 spring training.

However, Pennell notes that Utley’s right hip surgery, scheduled for next week, is to; 

Repair any bone or cartilage damage he may have in his right hip. He will be able to begin baseball activity in three to four months. But depending on the extent of the damage, full recovery could take until May, team officials said Thursday.

“Our feeling is that he’s going to be fairly close to ready if not ready by opening day,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “We fully expect to have Chase Utley with us for the bulk of the season.”

Utley was bothered by symptoms during the season but still hit .292 and led all second basemen with 33 home runs and 104 RBIs. While his season numbers were impressive, Utley started the season very well and tailed off in the last four months.

Utley had 18 home runs and 47 RBIs through the end of May but hit just 15 home runs the rest of the season.

So there is talk of using utility infielder Eric Bruntlett at 2nd base to spell Utley and/or minor league prospect Jason Donald could see time at 2nd base on the major league level.  Bruntlett managed to come through with a few clutch hits at critical junctures, but on the whole, he was what he was — a .217 hitter who was able to fill in at infield positions and as a late-inning defensive replacement for leftfielder Pat Burrell.

Phillies plans seem very much up in the air should Utley not, in fact, be ready to go by opening day.  But here’s a thought that I haven’t seen or heard on the blogs; Tadahito Iguchi.

Remember him?  In 2007, when Utley was hit in the hand requiring surgery, the Phils didn’t skip a beat. They went out and traded for Iguchi who filled the 2nd base void during Utley’s DL stint providing some pop with the stick.  He finishing the season with the Phils hitting .304 with 42 hits in 138 ABs in 45 games while quickly becoming a fan favorite.

Hesitating to switch to 3rd base and under contractual restriction, Iguchi was picked up by the San Diego Padres where he played 81 games in 2008 before going down with an injury and then being released.  The Phils picked him up again as insurance at the beginning of September.

I’ve seen no news as to Iguchi’s post-season status. He is still connected to the Phils on Yahoo, MLB and ESPN urls although his name doesn’t appear on the active or 40 man roster.

Iguchi’s spelling Utley during his rehab period could be the best possible move the Phils could make in the situation.

Pedroia Takes AL MVP Honors

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

                  Dustin Pedroia       Dustin Pedroia

Boston Red Sox 3rd year 2nd baseman Dustin Pedroia was the hands-down winner of the 2008 AL MVP Award.  He becomes the first 2nd baseman in nearly 50 years, and only the 10th 2nd baseman to win the award since AL and NL awards were first presented in 1931.  Pedroia had won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2007.

The last 2nd baseman to win the award in the AL was Nellie Fox of the Chicago White Sox in their pennant-winning 1959 season.  In the succeeding 48 seasons since Fox won the award in the AL, the NL boasts four MVP award winning 2nd basemen; Cincinnati’s Joe Morgan in 1976 and 1977, Chicago Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg in 1984 and San Francisco’s Jeff Kent in 2000. In each instance from Fox to Kent, their clubs won either pennants or division championships.  And for trivia, Fox, the last AL 2nd base recipient, was the same height as Pedroia at 5′9″.  But, unlike Fox, Pedroia’s Red Sox did not win the 2008 AL pennant, losing out to Tampa Bay in the regular season as well as in the ALCS.

Pedroia far outdistanced Minnesota’s Justin Morneau who finished 2nd in  the balloting.

Yahoo’s Gordon Edes notes;

Pedroia made a strong case by becoming just the fifth second baseman since 1937 to have a season with 200 or more hits, 100 or more runs scored, 80 or more RBIs, and 40 or more doubles.

He started 155 games, had just one month all season in which he hit below .300, hit .307 with runners in scoring position, and had a .298 average with two strikes. He also stole 20 bases in 21 attempts, and and struck out just 52 times in 653 at-bats.

When the Red Sox didn’t have a cleanup hitter in August after Mike Lowell was hurt and Manny Ramirez was traded, Pedroia stepped in for four games and belted 12 hits in 18 at-bats.

“Pedroia said it’s long overdue,” Boston manager Terry Francona said of his new No. 4 hitter, “and Ortiz said he’s retiring.”

When Pedroia played in his first All-Star Game last July in Yankee Stadium, he noticed that Francona had dropped him from his customary No. 2 spot in the batting order to ninth.

Pedroia stuck his head in Francona’s office. “Hey,” he cracked, “I thought we were trying to win this game.”

That kind of brash confidence has been a critical component of Pedroia’s game, enabling him to win over detractors who questioned his size (he’s listed at 5-9 and 180 pounds) and his big swing. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen jokingly likened him to a jockey but said that he wished that the Sox had gotten rid of Pedroia instead of Mannny Ramirez.

“How do you not love him,” one scout said Tuesday. “He brings energy to the table, he plays with passion. Every manager in the American League will tell you they’d love to have him. He plays like a giant.”

AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker adds this on Pedroia for Yahoo sports;

Pedroia led the AL in hits, runs and doubles in helping the Red Sox win the AL wild-card berth. He batted .326 with 17 home runs and 83 RBIs and also stole 20 bases. Earlier this month, he also won his first Gold Glove.

Pedroia, who made just $457,000 last season, didn’t have an MVP bonus provision in his contract. Morneau earned $75,000 and Mauer, Youkilis and Pena got $25,000 each.

Just a final observation about Pedroia;

He looks to be on a Chase Utley curve and Utley is seen to be THE preeminent 2nd baseman of of recent years. Take a look at Utley’s OBP and SLG for his 3rd through 6th seasons and you’ll see that Pedroia, aside from Utley’s predominance in hitting homers, was not far off in this, his 3rd season.

Pujols Beats Out Howard for NL MVP

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

                 Albert Pujols      Ryan Howard

Albert Pujols, 1st baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals was awarded the 2008 NL MVP Award over his closest competitor, Phillies 1st baseman Ryan Howard, in balloting which was much closer than it should have been.

Although this blog is partial to the Phils, 2008 World Series champs, the obvious truth is that the comparative 2008 performance numbers between Pujols and Howard, not withstanding Howard’s fine September finish, are not even close.

True, Howard led all of baseball with 48 homers and 146 RBIs, but he batted a a woeful (for an MVP candidate) .251 and struck out an unsightly 199 times in roughly 690 plate appearances.  That’s a strikeout every 3.47 plate appearances.

Also true, Pujols’ Cardinals finished in 4th place, 11 1/2 games off of the   Cubs’ pace in the NL Central Division, but check out his numbers compared with Howard’s above; League-leading .357 batting average to go along with 37 homers and 116 RBIs.  His 54 strikeouts in 624 plate appearances puts him at an astounding strikeout every 11.5 plate appearances.  Add to that his .462 OBP and .653 SLG % as compared with .339 and .543 for Howard.

Despite Pujols’ dissing of Howard’s receiving of the MVP in 2006 (they’re close friends) claiming that “Someone who doesn’t take his team to the playoffs doesn’t deserve to win the MVP,” Howard, despite his MLB-leading 48 homers and 146 RBIs just didn’t deserve the award in light of his appalling strikeout numbers.

PhilliesNation’s Tim Malcolm provides additional interesting stats and background to back up the fact that Pujols clearly deserved the award.

AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker notes the other award contenders for Yahoo sports;

Los Angeles outfielder Manny Ramirez and Milwaukee pitcher CC Sabathia, who both led postseason pushes after being traded by AL teams in July, also drew strong support.

Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun was third with 139 points, and Ramirez fourth at 138. Houston’s Lance Berkman was fifth and Sabathia sixth.

Personally, I don’t think that players who split leagues in a season should qualify off of their 2nd half performances.  It just somehow doesnt seem right or accurate.  Sabathia, while excellent at 11-2 since coming into the NL with 7 complete games, I view as problematic because of his “rented property status” with the Brewers.  Plus I hold that Manny, also “rented,” is extremely shabby and non-hustle on defense and has base-running issues and foibles which severely detract from his stick prowess.

Another Phil, closer Brad Lidge finished 8th in the MVP voting on the strength of his 41 saves in 41 opportunites in the regular season.  He finished going 48 for 48 including the playoffs and the World Series.

Piniella, Maddon Take Manager of the Year Honors

Friday, November 14th, 2008

              Lou Piniella         Joe Maddon

Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella and Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon took Manager of the Year honors in an MLB announcement made on Wednesday.

Piniella, dubbed “Sweet lou” both for his hitting prowess (.291 lifetime BA with both the Kansas City Royals and Yankees over 18 seasons) and, sarcastically, describing his demeanor as a player and manager, led the Cubs to consecutive NL Central titles in 2007 and 2008 without reaching the next level having fallen in the division championships in 3 games in both seasons.

AP Baseball Writer Mike Fitzpatrick notes;

Piniella beat out Charlie Manuel of the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies to earn his third Manager of the Year award and first in the NL. The fiery skipper also won in 1995 and 2001 with Seattle.

This time, he got 15 of 32 first-place votes and totaled 103 points to 67 for Manuel, listed first on eight ballots. Florida’s Fredi Gonzalez finished third with five first-place votes and 48 points.

“I’m thrilled and I’m honored. I know there were a lot of managers in the National League who had good seasons,” Piniella said from his home in Tampa, Fla.

The 65-year-old Piniella earned a $100,000 bonus for winning, which he plans to donate to the team’s charity partner, McCormick Foundation’s Cubs Care.

“My good fortune can get spread around a little bit,” he said. “The kids in the Chicago area will benefit from this and I’m very happy.”

Frankly, I am disappointed with the choice.  Yes, Seattle reached the next level 3 times between 1995 and 2001 but Piniella never got higher, nor did he win anything during 3 seasons as manager of the Yankees in 1986,  1987, 1988. 

Charlie Manuel took over as manager of the Phils and kept them in contention in 2005 and 2006, before chasing, catching and overtaking the  NY Mets on the last day of the 2007 season to win the NL East and doing so again in 2008, this time going all of the way to the World Series title.  Manuel got jobbed, robbed and deprived of the award he so justly and richly deserves.

Meanwhile, in the AL, the Rays’ Joe Maddon, who never played a game in the Majors and who piloted the team to horrific finishes of 61-101 in 2006 and 66-96 in 2007, caught the Boston Red Sox midway through the season and then nipped them by 2 games at the end of the 2008 regular season for the NL East title with a 97-65 mark.

After advancing to the ALCS, the Rays took a 3 games to 1 lead over the  Red Sox, who have a proclivity for coming back from long deficits in championship play.  The Red Sox rallied in the next 2 games to tie the series at 3 games apiece before the Rays held on to edge them by 3-1 to win the AL pennant.

AP’s Fitzpatrick further noted;

Tampa Bay, which started play in 1998, had never won more than 70 games in a season before Maddon engineered an incredible turnaround. With his motivational quotes and phrases, the 54-year-old skipper led a young team that finished in last place a season ago… to… the AL East title.

Maddon used his versatile bench brilliantly and juggled a much-improved bullpen that lost veteran closer Troy Percival to injury. The stunning success continued in October, when the Rays beat the Chicago White Sox and defending champion Boston Red Sox to capture the AL pennant.

“It was all there for us. It was just a matter of time,” Maddon said. “It happened a little sooner than I thought.”

Tampa Bay’s postseason run ended with a five-game loss to Philadelphia in the World Series, but that hardly spoiled it for Maddon.

“He’s got a great mind, he’s a great communicator and he’s been remarkably consistent since the first day of spring training in 2006,” Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “That’s extremely difficult to do in an environment so full of emotion. He has maintained that through our low points and also our high points.”

Lincecum, Lee; Cy Young Award Winners

Friday, November 14th, 2008

             Tim Lincecum        Cliff Lee

24 year old 2nd year ace of the San Francisco Giants Tim Lincecum and 30 year old Cleveland Indians 7 year veteran lefthander Cliff Lee garnered their respective league’s Cy Young Awards in MLB announcements made on Tuesday and Thursday.

Both Lincecum and Lee had phenominal seasons; Lincecum going 18-5 while racking up an incredible league-leading winning .783 percentage and league-leading 265 strikeouts in 227 innings with a 2.62 ERA for a Giants team which finished 4th in the NL West with a 72-90 mark and one of baseball’s least productive offenses.  Lee finished with the best mark in all of MLB at 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA in 223 1/3 innings pitched.  Between them, they gave up an incredibly low total of 23 homers (11 off of Lincecum, 12 off of Lee) in 450 1/3 innings.

In the NL, Arizona’s ace Brandon Webb finished a distant 2nd in the voting despite his 22-7 mark and 3.30 ERA in 226 2/3 innings.  Webb gave up but 13 dingers.  Johan Santana and CC Sabathia came in 3rd and 4th in the voting while Phillies closer Brad Lidge who recorded a perfect 41 saves in 41 chances in the regular season, 48 for 48 including the playoffs and the World Series, finished in the 5th spot in balloting.

Lincecum is only the 2nd Giant ever to win the Cy Young award with joining  Mike McCormick who won in 1967.  Records show that only Steve Carlton, in 1972, won the Cy Young for a club with a worse record than the 2008 Giants. Lefty went 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA for the morbund 1972 Phillies team who sported baseball’s worst record that year of 59-97.

Toronto Blue Jays starter Ray Halladay, with a 20-11 mark and a 2.78 ERA in 246 innings finished a distant 2nd in AL balloting and L.A. Angels closer
Francisco Rodriguez who set an MLB record with 62 saves and had a 2.24 ERA finished an even further distant 3rd.

Former Flamethrower, Indians Broadcaster Herb Score Passes Away

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

             Herb Score       Herb Score

Former Cleveland Indians fastballing lefthander Herb Score passed away on Tuesday morning at age 75 at his home in Rocky River, Ohio according to an Indians team statement.  He died after a lengthy illness.

MLB.com’s Justice B. Hill reports;

Score had been in poor health since his car pulled in front of a tractor-trailer on Oct. 8, 1998, in New Philadelphia, Ohio, a town about 80 miles south of Cleveland. Score teetered between life and death at Aultman Hospital in Canton, Ohio, with injuries to his hip, head and pelvis.

Even after he left Aultman Hospital for home, Score wasn’t the Herb Score that friends and baseball fans had come to know.

The team statement continued;

“Today is a sad day for the Cleveland Indians family and for Cleveland Indians fans everywhere. We have lost one of the greatest men in the history of our franchise. Generations of Indians fans owe their love of the Tribe to Herb Score, who was a powerful pitcher and legendary broadcaster. Our thoughts and prayers are with Nancy and the Family.”

Score took the Cleveland Indians and Major League baseball by storm in 1955 compiling a 16-10 record and winning AL rookie of the year honors while striking out an AL leading and then-MLB rookie record 245 in 227 1/3 innings with a 2.85 ERA a with a blazing fastball and a bottom-dropping curve. He went on to post a 20-9 mark in 1956 striking out a league-leading 263 in 249 1/3 innings with a 2.53 ERA.  He completed 27 games and pitched 7 shutouts during the 2 year span. 

As the 1957 season opened, Score had all of the earmarks of THE next great pitching star and ace of a new generation of Indian pitchers which would include Gary Bell, Mudcat Grant, and Jim Perry.

But then, on May 7th as recounted in an earlier blog post on pitcher’s vulnerability, Score was felled by line-drive off of the bat of Yankees’ shortstop Gil  McDougald suffering eye and face injuries from which he recovered. Although he back to pitch in the 1958 season and pitched sporadically through 1962, his career and the potential greatness foreseen was over.  Score was never the same.  He altered his pitching motion, always fearing another such line-drive injury, but the change in motion reduced his effectiveness.

Score retired in 1962 with a career 55-46 record and 837 strikeouts in 858 1/3 innings.  

 AP Sports Writer Tom Withers notes for Yahoo sports;

Not long after ending his playing career, Score began a second one in baseball when he joined the Indians’ TV broadcast team in 1964. He moved to radio in 1968.

A native of Rosedale, N.Y., his deep voice and thick New York accent became a fixture for generations of Indians fans. He retired from broadcasting after the 1997 season, his 34th in the booth.

While the Indians languished for decades during Score’s broadcasting tenure, his last game ended up being Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.  As it turned out, the Indians blew a ninth-inning lead and lost it in the 11th, missing a chance to end a World Series title drought dating back to 1948.

As always, Score’s last call was simple, accurate and to the point.

“Line drive, base hit, the game is over,” Score said, summing up Edgar Renteria’s series-winning hit off Charles Nagy.

Score’s personal send-off was brief, too.

“And so that is the season for 1997,” he said. “And there’s very little else we can say except to tell you it’s been a pleasure. I would like to thank all the fans for their kindness over the years. You’ve been very good to me. And we hope that whoever sits in this chair next, you’ll be as kind to them as you have been to me.”

Score’s subdued style was perfect for fans who couldn’t afford to take their pitiful Indians too seriously.

Score is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Nancy, and three children.