Saturday, May 03, 2003

State of the Red Sox Saturday


The Red Sox are 19-10, four games behind the Yankees and two games ahead of Oakland in the still-completely-meaningless wild card standings, which is exactly where they stood in both races last Saturday. After taking two of three from the defending World Champion Anaheim Angels, the Red Sox swept Kansas City in dramatic fashion.Then there was last night.

Boston wasted plenty of opportunities in the early going, and it was the Twins who struck first with a run in the fifth inning. Then the Twins scored two more the next inning and another two the following inning. Last year I would have felt the game was over, but last night I thought to myself, "Boston still has three innings to play, there's plenty of time left." Sure enough, the Red Sox scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh (although they could have scored more had they not left the bases loaded). While the Red Sox were making their comeback, my girlfriend, Stacy, was getting upset because she's a Twins fan. I told her not to get too upset because Minnesota still had two innings to try to score against Boston's bullpen. I wish I hadn't said that. The Boston bullpen promptly returned all six runs and the Red Sox lost 11-7.

Still, it was a good week. Now, on to the players.

Starting Rotation

This week was much better for the rotation as four of the six starts were quality starts (at least 6 IP and no more than 3 runs allowed).

Pedro Martinez had another good start wasted. He allowed two runs and struck out 10 in seven innings, leaving with a 4-2 lead, which the bullpen blew. Pedro has a 2.90 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP, but he's just 2-1 thanks to two bad bullpen outings and one bad day from the offense. Still, the Red Sox have won Pedro's last three starts and that's really all that matters.

Thursday was a very important start for Casey Fossum. It was a chance to have two good outings in a row. Unfortunately, he didn't get the opportunity to try to recover from a bad first inning. He gave up a twp-run homer to the fourth batter of the game, threw his next pitch behind the next batter, and was ejected. I personally don't think Fossum was trying to throw behind Raul Ibanez. The Royals had plunked three Red Sox hitters in the ninth the night before, so if there was going to be retaliation it probably would have been immediate or to the Royals best hitter. It's my understanding, however, that both teams were warned prior to Thursday's game. In that case, it makes no sense to retaliate and have your starter tossed in the first inning when you still have a shaky bullpen. Fossum says that he was upset about the home run and was just overthrowing the ball, and I believe him.

Derek Lowe finally looked like Derek Lowe on Wednesday, although he still had some control problems. He walked three batters, but he only allowed two hits and he got 11 ground-ball outs. After the beating he took in his previous start, Wednesday was very encouraging. Hopefully he can build on it and get on track for the rest of the season.

Tim Wakefield battled through another start Tuesday, allowing just two runs on seven hits and a walk in six innings. Wakefield never gets enough credit, but it's starts like these that allow the Red Sox to stay on winning streaks.

After last Saturday (three runs in eight innings) and the first four innings last night (just one hit and no walks or runs), I thought John Burkett had found the Fountain of Youth. The old Burkett returned over the next three innings, though, and I can't say I'm surprised. I just don't expect Burkett to be any good this year, so every decent start he gives us is a bonus in my eyes.

I'm much more happy about the state of the rotation today than I was last Saturday, and I'm glad Pedro's going tonight. I think he's about ready to go on one of his nasty hot streaks.

The Bullpen

It was a good and bad week for the Boston bullpen.

Chad Fox blew another save, injured himself and is now on the DL. Ramiro Mendoza had one decent outings and then two bad ones and I still don't trust him. Brandon Lyon helped rob Pedro of a win, but has had two good appearances since then. Steve Woodard saved the Red Sox by throwing almost five innings after Fossum got tossed.

The two relievers I've been most impressed with recently are Mike Timlin and Jason Shiell. Timlin hasn't allowed a baserunner in his last three appearances (5.1 innings) and Shiell also hasn't allowed a run in his last three outings (3.2 innings).

The Lineup

Catcher - Jason Varitek and Doug Mirabelli are both slumping right now. Varitek is the better hitter in general, so I'd like to see him get most of the playing time, especially since I think he's such an important presence on the field for the Red Sox.

First Base/DH - Kevin Millar has been hitting for a decent average the past week, but he's not drawing many walks and he's not hitting for power. Hopefully his hot start wasn't a big fluke. Jeremy Giami and David Ortiz are both still struggling, and I'm starting to get fed up with them. One of them needs to get on a hot streak soon.

Second Base - Todd Walker was one of the keys to Thursday's win, but he didn't do much else last week. I still think he'll be a valuable part of the Red Sox offense and certainly better than what Boston got from second base last year.

Third Base - Shea Hillenbrand has stopped racking up so many RBI, but his OPS has climbed to .889 over the last week. He's still not walking much (none the past seven games), so I don't know how long this can last. Bill Mueller has been great in a part-time role and I think he could definitely handle the job full-time. There have been rumors of the Red Sox getting Scott Williamson in exchange for Shea and I would definitely be in favor of that. It sounds like there was nothing behind those rumors though.

Shortstop - Nomar Garciaparra is 10-for-23 in the last five games as he attempts to get his numbers back up to a respectable level. He hasn't been walking or hitting for power, but that'll come back soon. Right now it's just good to see him swinging the bat well.

Left field - Manny Ramirez continues to be the glue that holds this offense together. He's hitting .361 and his OPS is up to .997 after posting a 1.218 OPS the last seven games. May could be one of those months where Manny hits over .400 and drives in 40 runs.

Center field - Johnny Damon's in a pretty bad slump right now, and apparently he's pretty mad that he's had four days off so far this year, saying that he doesn't need to hit for a high average to help the team. I agree, but he does need to be able to play at a high level in the second half to help the team. Last year, Damon wore down after the All-Star break, and I'm glad to see Grady Little giving him more frequent days off. Damian Jackson can't hit, but he's been a nice little role-player for the Red Sox so far (he's already thrown out two batters at the plate from the outfield).

Right field - Trot Nixon continues to be a quiet spark for the offense. He's hitting .333 with a .926 OPS and rarely has a bad game. Trot's always been one of my favorite Red Sox and this year I find myself liking him even more (and wanting him to be up in important situations even more).

Final Thoughts

It's still way too early to make any broad statements aboutt he Red Sox. One stat that everybody is happy about actually disturbs me. The Red Sox are 8-1 in one-run games this year. Just as Boston was unlikely to go 11-23 in one-run games last year, the Red Sox are unlikely to win eight of every nine one-run games from here on out. The offense is going to have to start getting it going earlier in games and the bullpen still needs to be more reliable. All in all, though, I feel very good aboutt he 2003 Red Sox on May 3rd.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Sensitive Subject

I'm sure most of you have already heard about Todd Jones' comments regarding homosexuality, but I just wanted to offer the following link for those of you who have not seen it yet. This has caused a great deal of discussion across the baseball world and I wanted to point out a few places you can go to read more about people's opinions on the matter.

Rob Neyer has written two columns discussing this. On Wednesday, he wrote a column in response to an email he received about Jones. Yesterday, he wrote a column in response to all the emails he received about his first column.

Over at Bronx Banter, Alex Belth has been discussing the matter with several people. Scroll down to "And The Band Played On" to read what Steve Keane and Gabe Fried had to say as well as to read Belth's discussion with Neyer. Scroll down further to "Forbidden Fruits" to see Belth's discussion with Christian Ruzich.

Meanwhile, at The Cub Reporter, Ruzich had this to say about the subject.

I hope Jones does not get punished, because it's a good thing that he said what he said. You may think that's a terrible thing for me to say, but I did not say that it's a good thing that he holds those opinions. Just as there are obviously gay baseball players (and gay athletes playing other sports), there are obviously a lot of people who feel the same way Jones does (or at least very similarly).

If Jones had not said what he said, none of the discussions I just posted links to would have taken place. And I think they are all very important discussions about a very sensitive issue. The more people discuss the issue, the more people will be educated about a number of things - homosexuality, religion, free speech, psychology and probably other areas that I'm not intelligent enough to see connections to. If you feel stronly about the subject and want to add your opinions, please email Rob, Alex, Christian, myself or any one of a number of other people who I'm sure are discussing the topic.

The more people know about anything, the more people can be tolerant and, eventually, accepting. And tolerance and acceptance are wonderful things.

Fantasy Friday

Evaluating the pitchers

Last week, I looked at hitters and put them into four different categories. This week, I'm going to do the same thing with pitchers. (Note: I'm writing based on 5x5 Rotisserie leagues, but would mention the same players for most leagues).

Sell High

These pitchers are off to great starts and will fall back to earth eventually. You should try to trade them now and get as much in return as possible. Here are my five in no particular order.

Esteban Loaiza and Runelvys Hernandez - I talked about both of these pitchers in this post, so I won't bore you by repeating everything. We'll also call them bonus selections because I'm just pointing them out and not adding anything to what I've already said.

Matt Mantei - Mantei is off to a great start, with a 2.92 ERA a 1.14 WHIP and 13 strikeouts in 12.1 innings. He only has four saves though, in large part because the Diamondbacks aren't giving him as many save opportunities as they would have either of the last two years. So even if he keeps pitching like he has been, Mantei may not top 30 saves. Add to that the fact that he has a long history of injury, and it makes sense to try to trade him while he's pitching well.

Jason Johnson - Johnson is 4-0 with a 2.12 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He also has yet to pitch more than 6.1 innings in a game and he's only struck out 15 batters in 29.2 innings. So, he's a candidate to start pitching much worse and even if he keeps pitching this well, he's a candidate to start getting a lot of no decisions unless he pitches longer. Trade him for what you can while you can.

Shawn Chacon - A Colorado pitcher with a 1.04 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP who made four of his five starts in Coors Field? If you like to take big risks, leave Chacon in your lineup for the rest of the year. If you know of anybody who is mildly interested in trading for him, pull the trigger now. Chacon has not unlocked the secret to pitching a mile above sea level and any start could see him get absolutely bombarded.

Zach Day - Day is 3-1 with a 1.94 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. Two other stats are cause for some concern though - 4.68 K/9IP and 1.13 K/BB. Day has been extremely lucky to not give up more hits than he has, but soon those balls the hitters are putting in play will find some holes. Try to make sure you've already traded him before they do.

Roger Clemens and David Wells - I don't think Clemens and Wells are bad to have by any means. They're both good pitchers and they're on a team with a great offense that gives them a chance to win every time out. That said, they're not going to keep pitching as well as they have been (or even close probably) and they're both old and injury-prone. If anybody in your league thinks they're Cy Young Award contenders, try to trade them for more reliable options.

Honorable (or obvious) mention: Tim Redding, Mike MacDougal, Matt Kinney, Tomo Ohka, Jeff Suppan.

Hold On

These are pitchers who are off to great starts, but should not necessarily be traded. They will probably cool off a bit, but what they'll give you in the long run is better than what you'll likely be able to get in a trade.

Carlos Zambrano - The forgotten man in a great Cubs rotation is 3-2 with a 2.61 ERA and 1.32 WHIP (and his ERA was just 1.85 before he made his most recent start in Coors). He has an impressive 8.7 K/9IP and a decent 2.00 K/BB. His lack of great control keeps his pitch counts up and prevents him from pitching deep into games, which could hurt his win total. However, he has great talent and is worth holding on to. Especially in keeper leagues.

Joe Borowski - Among the least likely to win the closer's job in Antonio Alfonseca's absence, Borowski has taken the title and run with it. He has four saves, a 1.98 ERA and a 0.59 WHIP. Last year, Borowski posted a 2.73 ERA with 97 strikeouts in 95.2 innings, so he can definitely pitch well enough to close. It sounds like Alfonseca will pitch middle relief when he's healthy to help get his feet under him. He's not a very good pitcher, so there's no reason to think he'll pitch well enough in that role to make Dusty Baker give him his job back. If somebody is willing to give you the value of a good closer for Borowski, go ahead and take it. Otherwise, hold onto Borowski and hope that he keeps the job all year.

Johan Santana - It's maddening that the Twins are keeping Santana and his 0.95 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 12.3 K/9IP out of the rotation, but just be patient. Santana is a stud pitcher and he'll get starts whenever a member of the rotation gets hurt (you don't really think the Twins will be able to go the whole year using just five starters, do you?). If he can pitch over 100 innings (he threw 108.1 last year), then he will definitely help your team. If you're in a keeper league, it's even more important that you hold onto him. Unless he gets hurt, he will win a Cy Young Award within 5-6 years.

Brett Myers - Myers has a 2.20 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP with 31 strikeouts in 32.2 innings. He hardly struck anybody out in the majors last year, but his minor-league numbers indicate a player who is capable of getting K's. He won't keep pitching this well, but he's just 22 years old and has a world of talent. When Philadelphia's offense gets cranking, he should start getting some wins as well.

Gil Meche - After two shaky starts to begin the season, Meche has not allowed an earned run in his last three outings. He has a 2.53 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP with 29 strikeouts (to just nine walks) in 32 innings. The only reason he wasn't more highly touted coming into this season was his injury history. If he's fully healthy now, he's capable of having a special season. And he's still just 24 years old, so he's even more valuable in keeper leagues.

Honorable (or obvious) mentions: Mark Prior, Darren Dreifort, Scott Williamson, Keith Foulke, Brian Lawrence.

Buy Low

These pitchers are off to slow starts, but they should rebound. If you have them, try to be patient with them. If somebody else is looking to get rid of them, see if you can take them off their hands cheaply.

Derek Lowe - Lowe has a 5.29 ERA and a 1.58 WHIP, so it might look like last year's Cy Young-caliber season was a fluke. However, Lowe's last start was very imressive and he's had four starts in which he's gotten double digit ground-ball outs, so his vintage sinker is still working. His problem this year has been a lack of control. He has 16 walks in 32.1 innings, and once he gets back to normal in that department he should be fine. That said, he won't be as good as last year and even at his best he doesn't get a lot of strikeouts, so don't expect a four-category star if you trade for him. If you can get him cheaply, he should reward you with a low ERA and WHIP and a bunch of wins.

Wade Miller - Miller has an ugly 6.07 ERA and 1.79 WHIP. Just look back to last year, however, and see that he had a 5.43 ERA in 61.1 innings before the All-Star break. After the break, he went 11-1 with a 2.00 ERA in 103.1 innings. Unless he's hurt and doesn't know it yet, I would expect him to improve as the season goes on. However, if you trade for him (or if you already have him), you might want to keep on the bench until he has a couple decent starts.

Jesse Foppert - One of the best pitching prospects around, Foppert created a stir when he was called up. He's disappointed so far though, with a 5.54 ERA and 1.62 WHIP. If you're in a keeper league, definitely see if you can steal him away from an unhappy owner. Even in non-keeper leagues, if you can get him cheaply it could be worth it. Stick him on your bench until he shows that he's ready to take full advantage of his talent.

Freddy Garcia - A lot of people have been worried about Garcia. He was terrible in the second half last year and he had a 5.09 ERA after his first four starts this year. His last two starts have been pretty good though, and for his career he's still got a 3.84 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. He went 18-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 2001 and I think that's closer to his true level of ability than what he did last year. See if you can get him cheap now, because he might be starting a hot streak.

Roy Halladay - I think Halladay's just been the victim of bad luck so far. Last year, he posted 6.32 K/9IP and 2.71 K/BB and allowed opponents to hit .244 against him. This year, he's striking out more people (6.70 K/9IP) and walking fewer (3.4 K/BB), but opponents are batting .298 against him. Last year's 2.93 ERA may have been a little too good, but he should certainly be way below the 4.93 ERA he has now. Toronto has a pretty good offense, so if he can keep his ERA in the 3.50-3.75 range (which he should be able to do), he should win plenty of games.

Honorable (or obvious) mentions: Greg Maddux, Curt Schilling, Kurt Ainsworth, Cliff Politte.

Cut Bait

These pitchers are off to poor starts and aren't likely to get much better. Just cut your losses now.

John Lackey - His 3.66 ERA last year was nice, but he had a 1.35 WHIP with just 5.73 K/9IP and 2.09 K/BB. He's not this bad (it's hard to have a 7.76 ERA), but there's no reason to think he's as good as he was last year.

Rodrigo Lopez - Between winter ball and a full year in the majors, Lopez threw a ton of innings last year. It showed, as he posted almost identical 4.94 ERA's in August and September. He hasn't done anything well this year, and he was only able to go one inning his last start. There's no reason to hold out hope here.

John Burkett - Don't be fooled by his last start into believing that Burkett can help your team. Over the course of the year, he'll have a handful of nice outings and he might win a dozen games because of Boston's offense. However, it's unlikely that his final ERA will be below 4.50 and he will have a WHIP in excess of 1.40. Get rid of him unless you're great at predicting when he'll be decent.

Danny Graves - Graves' transition from closer to starter has gone predictably poorly and there's no reason to think he'll get it turned around all of the sudden. There is, however, one reason to keep an eye on Graves. If the Reds trade Scott Williamson (as has been rumored a couple times), Graves will probably go back to being the closer. If that happens, then Graves has value again. If you can keep Graves on your bench for that slight possibility, go for it. Otherwise just drop him.

Mark Hendrickson - Hendrickson was an interesting pitcher coming into the year. He's a former basketball player who is 6-foot-9 and throws hard. It turns out he just can't pitch. He never struck out many batters in the minors and his ERA's weren't good until last year. There's absolutely no reason to think he'll become a worthwhile pitcher at any point this year.

Honorable (or obvious) mentions: Shawn Estes, Ryan Dempster, Chan Ho Park, Tanyon Sturtze.

Sorry for the late post today. I actually had some work to do today and that interfered with me getting all of this typed in before 11 or so.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

The Stingy Six

After the games that have ended so far today, there are six relief pitchers who have thrown at least 10 innings and have yet to give up a run. I thought it might be fun to take a look at how each of them has achieved their hot start.

Buddy Groom - Groom has pitched 10 innings, allowing four hits and one walk and striking out seven. He's held opponents to a .111 batting average and has thrown just 12.7 pitches per inning. Groom was one of the premier set-up men in the majors last year, with a 1.60 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 6.97 K/9IP, 4.00 K/BB and .196 BAA. For his career, however, his numbers are much more pedestrian - 4.50 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 6.18 K/9IP, 1.90 K/BB and .277 BAA.

Brendan Donnelly - Donnelly has pitched 17 innings, allowing five hits and seven walks while striking out 15. He's held opponents to a .088 batting average and a .307 OPS. Last year was Donnelly's first in the bigs, and he posted a 2.17 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.79 K/9IP, 2.84 K/BB and a 1.84 BAA.

John Smoltz - Smoltz has pitched 13.2 innings, allowing 10 hits and two walks while striking out 19. He's 10-for-10 in save opportunities. Last year was Smoltz's first as a closer, and he posted 55 saves with a 3.25 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 9.52 K/9IP, 3.54 K/BB and a .206 BAA. His numbers would have been much better if not for his second appearance, in which he gave up eight runs on six hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning.

Eric Gagne - Gagne has pitched 14.1 innings, allowing six hits and three walks with 24 strikeouts. He has eight saves to go along with his ridiculous 15.07 K/9IP ratio. Last year was his first as a closer, and he posted 52 saves with a 1.97 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 12.46 K/9IP, 7.13 K/BB and a .189 batting average against. Despite getting 56 percent of his outs via strikeout (which obviously require at least three pitches), Gagne has needed just 3.38 pitches per plate appearance this season.

LaTroy Hawkins - Hawkins has pitched 10 innings, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out 11. He has a miniscule 0.50 WHIP and has held opponents to a .098 batting average. After two up-and-down years as the team's closer, Hawkins was very impressive last year. He had a 2.13 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 7.06 K/9IP, 4.20 K/BB and a .217 BAA.

Joe Nathan - Nathan has pitched 17.2 innings, allowing eight hits and eight walks while striking out 15. After throwing just over 90 innings per season in 1999 and 2000 pitching mostly as a starter, Nathan missed all of 2001 and pitched only 3.2 innings last year due to injury.

If I were to rank them as far as how dominant they've been so far this year, I'd put them in this order: Gagne, Smoltz, Hawkins, Groom, Donnelly, Nathan. It will be interesting to see which of them can go the longest without giving up a run. I'll try to keep an eye on it.

Hard-luck loser

As you may or may not know, Mike Maroth was 0-6 before today's game against the Orioles. Part of the reason is that he's not good (5.88 ERA before today) and part of the reason is that Detroit's offense is terrible (2.25 runs scored per game before Maroth's start). But a big part of the reason is that he's had bad luck. Well, today that bad luck turned ugly.

Through seven innings, Maroth was working on a no-hitter with five strikeouts and no walks. The only baserunner had been Gary Matthews Jr., who was hit by a pitch in the fourth inning. Maroth then ran into some trouble in the eighth inning as the first two batters singled to break up the no-hitter. Maroth rebounded to get the next two batters to ground out, but a wild pitch broke up his shutout bid. Maroth then gave up another run scoring single to cut Detroit's lead to 3-2. A bunt single put two men on with two out and ended Maroth's night. The astute among you might now note (or you could already know what happened) that with a one-run lead and two men on, Maroth could still lose the game.

And that's exactly what happened. Matt Anderson came on and gave up a walk and two singles to give Baltimore a 5-3 lead with four of the runs credited to Maroth. Jamie Walker then came in and gave up another run-scoring single, making it almost impossible for Detroit's anemic offense to rally and get Maroth off the hook. After the inning finally ended, Baltimore had no problem closing out the win.

So, Maroth is now 0-7. Lee Sinins frequently rails against the use of wins and losses as a statistic, and he's got a point. The pitcher has no control over how many runs his offense scores or when it scores them. Maroth has not been good (his ERA is at 5.66 after his seventh loss), but he has not lost the Tigers seven games. Let's take a look at each of his starts.

On opening day, Maroth pitched seven innings against the Twins, allowing two runs on five hits. A pretty good start, but Brad Radke was better for Minnesota, allowing just one run over 6.2 innings and letting the bullpen finish things up. The Twins win 3-1 and Maroth is 0-1.

On April 5th, Maroth got hit hard by the White Sox. He gave up four runs on nine hits and two walks in 4.1 innings. Chicago wins 7-0 and Maroth is 0-2.

On April 10th, Maroth had another nice outing, allowing two runs on five hits and a walk in seven innings against the Royals. Unfortunately, Miguel Asencio allowed just one run in five innings and by the time Kansas City's bullpen gave up a second run, the Detroit bullpen had already given up two more runs. Kansas City wins 4-2 and Maroth is 0-3.

On April 15th, Maroth faced Minnesota again and didn't fare as well. He gave up five runs on nine hits and a walk in 5.1 innings. The Twins win 6-4 and Maroth is 0-4.

On April 20th, Maroth had another decent start, giving up four runs (three earned) on just four hits in eight innings. Asencio gave up 12 baserunners (nine hits and three walks) in six innings, but just three runs and the Kansas City bullpen shut the Tigers out. The Royals win 4-3 and Maroth is 0-5.

On April 25th, Maroth had his worst start of the season. He gave up six runs on eight hits and a walk in two innings. Seattle wins 6-0 and Maroth is 0-6.

Maroth has now had four starts with a Game Score above 60 and three with a Game Score below 35 and he's lost all seven. You know what? I hope Maroth loses 20 games this year. Do I have something against him? No, I just want this to be the last year that we're subjected to column after column of Jayson Stark interviewing Brian Kingman.

Hampton of old

After a poor first start and a good-but-short second start, Mike Hampton was very impressive last night. Hampton pitched seven innings, allowing one run on a walk and four hits. He only struck out two and only has four strikeouts in 18 innings this year, but even back when he was good he never struck out a lot of batters (obviously more than two per nine innings, but never as many as seven per nine innings). Hampton's Game Score last night was 66. The last time he had a Game Score that high was exactly one year earlier, when he went seven shutout innings with three hits, three walks and three strikeouts for a Game Score of 71 on April 30, 2002. Last year, he only had five starts out of 30 with a Game Score higher than 50. This year he already has two after just three starts.

He obviously needs to get his strikeouts back up in the vacinity of six per nine innings to continue to be successful, but if he can keep giving the Braves decent-to-good starts it will be a big boost for that rotation.

Thank you

My counter just hit 1,000, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has stopped by to read what I have to say. When I started this, I wasn't sure how many people would actually be reading and I've been pleasantly surprised. If you enjoy reading what I have to say and you have friends who like baseball, please pass the word and tell them to stop by. Also, everybody should feel free to email me with any questions you might have. I promise I'll respond as quickly as I can.

Thanks again, and let's keep that counter moving!

Royal Collapse

Last night was the first time this year I was able to watch a Red Sox game in its entirety. And as happy as I was that Boston won, it was sad to watch the Royals fold so badly. Especially since the first eight and a half innings gave every indication that their luck (and they have been very lucky) was back after a two-game absence.

Boston got out to an early 1-0 lead on a first inning homer from Bill Mueller. Derek Lowe held the Royals hitless for the first two innings before Kansas City scored two in the third. The Royals didn't get another hit until the ninth, but their pitching kept them in it. Boston left the bases loaded in the sixth, seventh and eight innings, scoring just one run on a wild pitch.

In the sixth, Boston loaded the bases with one out and the next two batters struck out. In the seventh, Boston loaded the bases with one out, the next batter grounded to first with the runner getting thrown out at home and Nomar Garciaparra popped up to end the inning. In the eighth, Boston loaded the bases with one out and the next batter struck out. After a wild pitch tied the game at 2-2 and Trot Nixon walked to reload the bases, Mueller popped out to end the inning.

So the game was tied going to the ninth, and the Kansas City bats finally woke up. The Royals put runners on second and third with no outs before Mike Sweeney struck out looking. The Red Sox then intentionally walked Raul Ibanez and Ken Harvey made them pay with a bloop single that gave the Royals a 4-2 lead going into the bottom of the ninth.

Enter Mike MacDougal. I was very interested to see how MacDougal would respond to his first blown save. The answer is not well. And that's an understatement.

Todd Walker led off the inning with a single. After throwing a ball to Nomar, MacDougal's next pitch nearly hit him in the head and Walker moved up to second on the wild pitch. After working the count full, MacDougal did hit Nomar just above the right elbow. Manny Ramirez followed with a single that made it 4-3 Kansas City, with Nomar going from first to third. Kevin Millar then hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Another save blown, and things got really ugly from there.

MacDougal's very next pitch hit Shea Hillenbrand in almost the same spot he hit Nomar. MacDougal's night was done and D.J. Carrasco got Johnny Damon to pop the first pitch up into the on-deck circle for what should have been the second out. Except that Brent Mayne dropped the ball and Damon had new life. After throwing one ball, Carrasco hit Damon to load the bases.

Now, the Red Sox had left the bases loaded in each of the previous three innings, so there was certainly a chance that the Royals could have sent this game to extra innings. They just needed a ground ball right to an infielder, a pop-up or a strikeout. Jason Varitek steps up to the plate and hits the first pitch he sees on the ground right to Sweeney. Sweeney hurries trying to get the ball and throw home, loses control of it and the Red Sox win.

After starting out 17-4, the Royals have now lost three games in a row and two of them have been very painful. The Royals are now 17-7 and it would not surprise me at all to see them sitting at .500 in mid June. They've been playing with fire all year and now they're starting to get burned. And I don't think they have the confidence to turn it around.

All-Star Baldelli?

Rocco Baldelli finally hit his first home run in the majors yesterday, a three-run shot in the third inning off Brad Radke. As the table to the right shows, Baldelli's batting average is still above .350 (.364) and his OPS is still near .900 (.894). We're one month into the season, and it seems to me that Baldelli has a pretty good shot at making the All-Star team as a 21-year-old rookie.

Somebody from Tampa Bay has to make the team and Baldelli has the highest OPS among Devil Rays regulars. The only pitcher who might have a chance is Lance Carter, who is currently 3-1 with 5 saves and a 3.45 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Back to the offense, you might ask if I'm forgetting about Aubrey Huff. Well, I agree with you that Huff will probably have a better OPS than Baldelli by the All-Star game, but I doubt Mike Scoscia pays much attention to the OPS leaderboard. Unless Baldelli absolutely falls on his face over the next two months, he'll probably still be hitting above .300 by a decent amount and Huff is unlikely to get above .300 that quickly (if at all). Throw in the fact that Baldelli has been all the rage this year, and I think he'll get the call.

And if he does, three deserving AL outfielders will probably miss out on the All-Star game. I don't expect Baldelli's OPS to still be above .850 by then and I don't think two of the three starting AL outfielders in the All-Star game will be deserving of their spots. The two I'm refering to are Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui, both of whom are currently sporting sub-.700 OPS's but will probably be voted in thanks a tremendous amount of votes from Japan.

While I do think that one of the problems with the All-Star game is the way players are used, the bigger problem is the way players are selected. If Baldelli is still playing this well, then I have no problem with Tampa Bay getting an All-Star, but we don't need an All-Star from every team. And if Ichiro and Matsui are deserving, then I have no problem with them being there, but it's not fair that they have an entire country to vote for them regardless of how they're doing. Until all the best players are at the game and the best of the best players play more of the game, the All-Star game will continue to just be decent.

And don't even get me started on who might be representing the Detroit Tigers this year.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Return to the early 1900's

Just about everybody knows about the basestealing prowess of the Florida Marlins. They've stolen 48 bases and been caught 12 times (80 percent success rate). They've stolen 27 more bases the next-most larcenous team and 40 more bases than their opponents have stolen against them. But who's been the biggest thief in Florida so far? Luis Castillo? No, he's only got seven steals, fourth-best on the team. How about Juan Pierre? Well, you get half credit. He's tied for the team lead with 10 steals, but the person I have in mind wins the tie-breaker because he hasn't been caught yet. That player would be 6-foot-5, 248-pound first baseman Derrek Lee. Yes, you read that right. Lee, who entered the season 30-for-47 on stolen base attempts in his career, is a perfect 10-for-10 in the first 28 games this season.

Since it's only April and Lee's on pace to steal 58 bases, I have a chance to be silly and look back at the early 1900's. As far as I can tell, only four players have stolen at least 50 bases in seasons in which they played mostly first base and all of them did it before the Yankees won their first World Championship.

In 1901, a 26-year-old on the Chicago White Sox named Frank Isbell stole 52 bases. Isbell appeared in 137 games and played first base in at least part of all of them (he did play second base in two games and third base and shortstop once each as well as pitching one inning). Isbell also stole 38 bases the next year and finished his 10-year career with 253 steals.

In 1903, Frank Chance (Hall-of-Famer and part of the famous Tinker to Evers to Chance double-play combination) stole 67 bases while playing first base in 121 of the 125 games he appeared in. Chance also stole at least 35 bases in each of the following four seasons, including 57 in 1906. He finished his career with 401 steals.

In 1913, Boston Braves 25-year-old first baseman Hap Myers stole 57 bases. His first full season in the majors, that was also his last season in the majors. He jumped to the Federal League Brooklyn Tip-Tops the following year, where he had seasons of 43 and 28 steals before the league folded.

In 1922, Hall-of-Famer George Sisler stole 51 bases for the St. Louis Browns. Sisler had plenty of opportunities to steal as he found himself at first base following a single or a walk 227 times (he walked 49 times and 178 of his 246 hits were singles). Two years earlier, when he set the single-season record with 257 hits, he "only" had 217 singles and walks and stole 42 bases, one of the five other times he stole at least 30 bases. Sisler finished with 375 career steals.

Well, that was a fun trip in the way-back machine, but I highly doubt that Lee will top 50 steals this year (and he certainly won't approach Chance's 401 career steals). Heck, I didn't think Lee would quite reach the 18 steals he had last year, but I apparently underestimated Florida's run-and-run-some-more offensive philosophy. Even if he doesn't quite reach 50, it will be fun to see how many steals the big man can amass.

Death Row

In New York, a stacked lineup is called Murderer's Row. In Texas, I guess it would be appropriate to say that a pitcher's on Death Row. What does being on Death Row mean for pitchers this year? It means having to face these four batters in the second through fifth spots of the Rangers lineup, at least yesterday:

Carl Everett - .329 Avg/.404 OBP/.759 SLG with 9 homers and 18 RBI.
Alex Rodriguez - .347/.441/.683 with 9 homers and 23 RBI.
Juan Gonzalez - .262/.309/.524 with 8 homers and 21 RBI.
Rafael Palmeiro - .253/.387/.540 with 7 homers and 17 RBI.

With an .833 OPS, Gonzalez is currently the worst hitter of the four, but he has a career .906 OPS. It really would not surprise me to see all four of these players hit at least 40 homers. It's really just a question of all four players staying healthy and Everett not going mental.

The Rangers are currently on pace for an astounding 299 homers. Unfortunately, their team OPS is .825 and their pitchers are allowing an .846 OPS against. Texas could have every player in the lineup crank 30 homers and it wouldn't change the fact that they just don't have any pitching. The Rangers are a fun team to watch (especially if you like home runs) and not a fun team to play, but they're not a team that's going to be playing meaningful baseball in October.

Alomar the Anomaly

Statistically, Roberto Alomar is a very strange player. Here are his Plate Appearances per Walk numbers for his career, starting with his rookie 1988 season: 13.0, 13.2, 13.5, 12.6, 7.7, 8.5, 8.9, 12.3, 7.8, 11.7, 11.1, 7.0, 10.9, 8.5, 11.5. As you can see, they're all over the place. His strikeouts per walk numbers are similarly all over the place: 1.76, 1.43, 1.50, 1.51, 0.60, 0.84, 0.80, 0.96, 0.72, 1.08, 1.19, 0.97, 1.28, 0.89, 1.46.

This is strange because aside from just being more accurate than batting average in evaluating offense, OBPs also tend to be more consistent because players' walk rates tend to be consistent over their careers. Not Alomar's though. For the sake of giving an example, let's say that fewer than 9.0 plate appearance per walk is good and greater than 10.5 plate appearances per walk is bad and anything in between is average. Here are Alomar's years with that crieteria: Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad, Good, Good, Good, Bad, Good, Bad, Bad, Good, Bad, Good, Bad. He's never been average and he hasn't been consistently good or bad.

At least his walk rates have corresponded with his good and bad years offensively, though. Alomar's had four season with an OPS of at least .900. In each of those seasons, his plate appearances per walk number was below 9.0 and he struck out fewer times than he walked. Alomar's had six seasons with an OPS below .800. In each of those seasons, his plate appearances per walk number was greater than 11.0 and his strikeouts per walk number was greater than 1.15.

That's what makes this year even more confusing. Alomar currently has a .708 OPS, but he has 16 walks (7.25 plate appearances per walk) and 15 strikeouts (0.94 strikeouts per walk). I'm going to try to keep an eye on this for the rest of the season because his walk rates, while never in line with each other, have pretty much been in line with his level of performance.

VazKuez strikes again

Javier Vazquez continues to just blow hitters away this year. Last night, he struck out 12 more batters in seven innings, allowing just three hits and no walks. Unfortunately for him, two of the hits were home runs and he left with the score tied at 2-2, but the Expos eventually won 3-2.

Vazquez now has 58 strikeouts, the most in the majors by 10. He has a 2.50 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP, 13.2 K/9 innings and 11.6 K/BB. Those are ridiculous numbers and the only reason his ERA is that high is that six of the 31 hits he's allowed have been home runs. Last year, Vazquez had a 3.91 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 6.99 K/9 innings and 3.65 K/BB. In 2001, Vazquez had 8.37 K/9 innings and 4.73 K/BB. So, he obviously has the ability to strike out a lot of people while not walking very many.

The question is whether this is an indication of a new level for him or just a tremendous hot streak. He obviously won't keep striking out 13 batters every nine innings, but if he can finish the year with 9-10 K/9 innings and 4.5-5 K/BB, then he will definitely be a serious candidate for the Cy Young Award (assuming the offense gives him enough wins to please the BBWAA).

Unusual complete game

Ramon Ortiz had his best outing of the season yesterday, allowing one run on seven hits and two walks in a complete game to lead the Angels over the Indians 10-1. Particularly impressive is that Ortiz needed just 98 pitches (10.9 per inning) and threw 67 of them for strikes (68.4 percent). So, what's unusual about this game? Ortiz didn't strike anybody out. Not one single strike out in nine innings. Ortiz faced 33 batters and the only two who did not put the ball in play both drew walks.

Ortiz threw the 19th complete game of this season, and the first in which the pitcher did not strike anybody out. The previous low for strikeouts in a complete game this season was one, in an eight-inning loss by Ben Sheets (he allowed three runs on seven hits and one walk). The previous low for a nine-inning complete game was three, accomplished three times this season. In the other 18 complete games (including the four that did not go nine innings), the pitchers averaged 5 2/3 strikeouts, 5.1 hits allowed, 1.1 walks and 1.5 runs.

Ortiz is now 4-2 with a 4.38 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP with 21 strikeouts and 11 walks in 37 innings. Before the season, I thought Ortiz was a good candidate to have a breakout year. In 2001, he posted a 4.36 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 5.82 K/9IP and 1.78 K/BB. Last year, those numbers improved accross the board: 3.77 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 6.71 K/9IP and 2.38 K/BB. I thought that if he could maintain or improve upon last year's strikeout and walk rates he would have his best year. Well, before last night, he had maintained the rates with 6.75 K/9IP and 2.33 K/BB, but his ERA was 5.46 and he had a 1.5 WHIP. Now his ERA and WHIP are lower, but he's down to 5.1 K/9IP and 1.9 K/BB.

It will be interesting to see if last night was just a fluke, or if he is going to get fewer strikeouts over the course of the season. A lower K rate than normal can work for awhile (see Bartolo Colon last year), but ultimately strikeouts are the best way a pitcher has to keep a runner off base because once the ball's in play luck has a lot to do with whether or not the batter's out.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Active leaders

I had given up on writing anything today when Jim Baker's Baker's Dozen on sparked my interest in checking the all-time lists. Since I spent time doing it, I figured I might as well share the active leaders in a bunch of categories with you.


With Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines not playing in the majors this year, there are new active leaders in most categories. Not surprisingly, two names appear the most.

Barry Bonds has played in 2,459 games, 51st all-time and seven behind Dave Parker for 50th. Rafael Palmeiro is the next highest active player on the list at 57th (tied with Chili Davis with 2,436).

Palmeiro is 52nd on the list of at-bats with 9,074. No other active players are in the top 80.

Bonds has scored 1,849 runs, 12th all-time. Palmeiro is the next highest active player with 1,472, six behind Arlie Latham for 60th.

Palmeiro is the active leader in hits with 2,655, 60th all-time and one better than Ted Williams.

Palmeiro has 526 doubles, tied with Dave Parker for 27th all-time. Bonds (32nd with 517) and Mark Grace (35th with 608) are the only other active players in the top 50.

No active player is in the top 150 for triples. Steve Finley leads all active players with 99 triples, tied with Phil Cavarretta, Larry Bowa and Jack Tobin for 157th.

Bonds obviously leads all active players with 619 homers, fourth all-time. Much was made before the season about how four players could join the "500 Homer Club" this year. Sammy Sosa already has and now ranks 17th with 504 (tied with Eddie Murray). Palmeiro is 19th with 497 and should join the club very soon. The other two, however, will likely have to wait until at least next year. Fred McGriff has two homers this season and is 21st with 480 for his career. He hit 30 last year, but I highly doubt he will be able to get 20 over the rest of this season. Ken Griffey Jr. hit one homer before dislocating his shoulder and ranks 24th with 469 for his career. I'd say he's more likely to hurt himself again than to hit 31 homers after he returns from his injury this season.

Bonds ranks 19th all-time with 1,655 RBI. Palmeiro (tied for 27th at 1,591 with Andre Dawson) and McGriff (39th with 1,514) are the only other active players in the top 50.

Bonds is fourth all-time with 1,943 walks. No other active player is in the top 30 (Frank Thomas is 31st with 1,306).

Andres Galarraga is second all-time with 1,945 strikeouts (652 behind all-time leader Reggie Jackson). Sosa (seventh with 1,859) and McGriff (eighth with 1,817) are the other active players in the top 10.

No active player is in the top 30 for stolen bases. Kenny Lofton is 31st with 512, four behind Jack Doyle. Bonds is 36th with 496. Bonds is also tied for 25th all-time with Lonnie Smith at 140 times caught stealing.

Mike Piazza has the 44th best career batting average at .320 (right in between the .320's of Charlie Gehringer and Chuck Klein).


The active pitching leaders aren't as interesting, but are still worth looking at. One name obviously dominates the lists.

Jessie Orosco is the all-time leader with 1,198 appearances.

Roger Clemens is 20th all-time with 578 games started.

Clemens is 331st with 116 complete games, but he's tied for 28th with 45 shutouts.

Clemens is 35th with 4,101 innings pitched and 59th with 3,505 hits allowed.

As soon as Chuck Finley signs with a team, he'll be the active leader with 1,366 earned runs allowed (tied with Jim Bunning for 56th all-time). Until then, it's Tom Glavine (80th with 1,266 earned runs allowed).

Clemens is 26th all-time with 1,331 walks, one behind Finley and Chick Fraser.

Clemens is third with 3,940 strikeouts. Randy Johnson is fourth with 3,777.

Clemens is tied with Bobby Matthews for 21st with 297 wins. He goes for his 298th tonight. If the stars align correctly, he could be going for 300 in Fenway on Wednesday, May 21st (or Tuesday, May 20th if somebody's start gets skipped). He should get four starts (including tonight) before his likely start in Fenway. His opponents in those four games will be the Mariners, A's, A's and Rangers. If he wins two (and only two) of the four, Fenway Park will be filled with even more tension than your typical Red Sox-Yankees game.

Greg Maddux is tied for 131st (with Bob Knepper and Woodie Fryman) with 155 losses. Finley is 83rd with 173 losses.

Trevor Hoffman is fifth with 352 saves.

Pedro Martinez is tied for 64th with a 2.63 career ERA (rounded to the nearest hundredth). Tim Keefe, Cy Young, Vic Willis, Red Ames and Barny Pelty each finished their career with a 2.63 ERA.

So that's that. My only comments are that I didn't expect Bonds and Palmeiro to dominate the active offensive leaderboards by that much, I had no idea Steve Finley was the active leader in triples and I really hope it works out so that Clemens is going for 300 in Boston.

Taking a day off

I hate to say it, but I've got nothing today. I don't know if it's because I'm still a little bit sick and a little bit tired or because there were only two games last night, but there's nothing I can think of that I really want to write about today. So I'm taking the day off, but I promise to come back strong tomorrow. There are a lot of interesting games tonight, and I'm sure something will inspire me.

If you haven't already checked them out today, please go through the links to the right and read what all of these fine writers have to say and remember to come back tomorrow.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Nice job, now get lost

Brandon Webb made his first start in the majors yesterday, leading Arizona to a 6-1 win over the Mets in the first game of their doubleheader. He pitched seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and walking one with 10 strikeouts. Webb threw an economic 99 pitches (12.7 per inning) with 63 strikes (62.6% of his pitches).

Webb's reward for such a nice start? An immediate trip to AAA Tucson to make room for Randy Johnson, who pitched the second game of the doubleheader. Johnson went six innings, allowing two runs on nine hits with 12 strikeouts in a 7-3 win for the Diamondbacks.

Webb spent most of 2002 with AA El Paso. He went 10-6 with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP in 152 innings with 122 strikeouts and 59 walks. In 179 A-ball innings in 2000 and 2001, he posted a 3.92 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP with 176 strikeouts and 53 walks.

Let's play 20

In case you all missed it, the Cardinals needed 20 innings to beat Florida last night. Here are 10 things that I found interesting:

1. Fernando Vina went 0-for-9 before hitting the game-winning RBI single in the 20th. In one day, Vina's average dropped from an ugly .214 right down to the Mendoza line (.200).

2. The two teams combined for eight runs in the ninth inning, and then neither team could score for the next 10 innings. Leading 3-1 after eight, St. Louis scored three in the top of the ninth to take a seemingly commanding lead. However, Florida came back to tie it up, thanks in part to home runs by Mike Lowell, Ramon Castro (who came in as a pinch-hitter in the sixth) and Luis Castillo (his first since June 5, 2001). Castillo came in as a pinch-hitter in the seventh.

3. The teams combined to use 43 players (21 for St. Louis, 22 for Florida), including 15 pitchers (7 for St. Louis, 8 for Florida).

4. There were two wild pitches, five intentional walks (three to Lowell alone), two hit batters and a balk in the game.

5. St. Louis hit four triples in the game. The Cardinals hit one in the first, one in the fourth, on in the ninth and one in the 17th.

6. The teams combined to leave 37 men on base (16 for St. Louis and 21 for Florida) and hit into six double plays (three for each team). Only three of the double plays were normal ground-ball double plays.

7. There were three outfield assists in the game, with a batter getting thrown out at first, second and home.

8. Seven different players occupied the third spot in the Cardinals lineup, with six of them actually coming to the plate. Seven different players occupied the eighth spot in the Marlins lineup, but only four of them came to the plate.

9. St. Louis pitchers retired the last 10 Florida hitters in a row. The longest streak of hitters retired in a row by the Florida pitchers was seven.

10. St. Louis batters got 22 hits, walked five times and struck out eight times. Florida batters got 13 hits, walked 16 times and struck out 15 times.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Super Sports Sunday

Loving the NBA Playoffs

My interest in the NBA has grown every year for the past four or five years, and now it's growing every day. This year's NBA Playoffs are about as compelling as you could hope, with an up-in-the-air Eastern Conference, a handful of young studs and the three-time defending champions getting tested in the first round. Here are my thoughts on the last week of each series.

Boston 3, Indiana 1

Is there anything better than watching your favorite basketball team go on a 15-0 run? Especially when it's at home and you can feel the other team getting discouraged and becoming tentative... If there is, it's watching that entire quarter, in which your team outscores its opponent 37-14 to go from 12 points down to 11 up. The Pacers have now collapsed in the third quarter of two straight losses, once after they had used the second quarter to get back into the game and once when they controlled the first half and seemed poised to tie the series. Indiana's obviously in big trouble and it's not because Boston's a better team. Indiana has tremendous talent, but seems to have trouble maintaining a high level of energy for an entire game. Maybe next year, with a new coach, the Pacers will be ready to make a run.

Anyway, have I mentioned lately that I love Paul Pierce? He scored just five points in the first half, and then went off for 21 in the third quarter. The best moment came at the end of the third with the Celtics playing for the last shot. Pierce just dribbled the ball outside the arc, talking to Al Harrington and shaking his head. When the shot clock was low enough, Pierce matter-of-factly stepped up and hit a 3. Pierce finished with 37 points, and I don't think there's anybody in the NBA who can go from having a bad game to having a great game quicker than him.

Orlando 3, Detroit 1

It sure would be fun to watch Tracy McGrady average 40 points a game for a series, but it might not be in the best interests of the Magic. Orlando is 1-1 in the two games McGrady topped 40 points (43 in a 99-94 game one victory and 46 in a 89-77 game two loss) and 2-0 in the games he stayed under 30 (he's scored 29 in each of the last two games, both wins).

Detroit's problem in this series is not that they don't have as much talent on the roster as Orlando, it's that they need to have a comfortable lead after three quarters to win a game. Because if the game is close and the Pistons and Magic are trading meaningful possessions at the end of the game, who would you bet on? Orlando has McGrady and his ridiculous ability to create his own shot from anywhere on the court or find an easy shot for a teammate. Detroit's best option is Richard Hamilton, who isn't great at creating a shot for himself and certainly can't find an easy shot for his teammates. Detroit might win another game, but I highly doubt they'll come back to win the series.

Philadelphia 2, New Orleans 1

With about 9:30 to play in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Philadelphia trailed by just two points (73-71) and New Orleans was staring at the very real possibility of falling into a 3-0 hole in the series. Then the Hornets scored 13 straight points and all of the sudden we have ourselves a series. I didn't really get to see much of game three, so I don't know how the Hornets were able to beat Philadelphia. I still think Philadelphia has the better team and it always helps to have the best player on the court.

I'm definitely rooting for Philadelphia to win because I want to see a second-round series pitting McGrady against Allen Iverson. McGrady's one of the most explosive scorers in the NBA and Iverson's one of the most determined. It sure would be fun to watch them try to one-up each other for seven games.

New Jersey 2, Milwaukee 2

I haven't been able to watch very much of this series, but I'm rooting for the Bucks to pull it out. The Celtics should clinch their spot in the second round soon, and their chances of moving on improve dramatically if the opponent in the second round is Milwaukee instead of New Jersey. For some reason, the Nets have just had Boston's number the last two years.

The only real observation I have is that Tim Thomas finally decided to show up for the Bucks. Milwaukee got rid of Glenn Robinson because they thought Thomas could replace his numbers (20.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists last year) well enough. Instead, Thomas averages 13.3 points and 4.9 rebounds. In this series, however, he's leading the Bucks with 21.3 points per game.

Minnesota 2, L.A. Lakers 2

I don't know how often the fourth game of a seven game series is a must-win for both teams, but I think this one was. If the Timberwolves could have pulled it out, they would have led 3-1 heading back to Minnesota and I think it would have been all over for the Lakers. Now, however, the Timberwolves have given everything possible for three straight games and still they're not ahead in the series. I just don't think they can win two out of three games against the Lakers now, even with home-court advantage.

That said, I don't think the Lakers have any chance of winning their fourth straight title. The supporting cast simply is not there. Minnesota has one great player with a bunch of decent players thrown in around him and the Lakers have two great players with a bunch of guys off the scrap heap. When L.A. goes up against a team with a more complete roster, it'll all be over.

There's one other thing I'd like to mention that relates to this series. I was in Orlando for spring training last year and was listening to a sports talk show one night while driving somewhere with my dad. This was when Troy Hudson was still with the Magic, and he had apparently taken to calling himself T-Hud (like McGrady called himself T-Mac). One of the personalities on this show took umbrage, saying that a scrub like Hudson doesn't have the right to give himself a nickname, especially not a nickname that mimics the nickname of the team's star. Well, if Minnesota does win this series, it will be because Hudson continues to toss in around 30 points a game and then he can call himself whatever he damn well pleases and the good fans of Minnesota might just go out and get a tattoo of whatever he decides is a worthy name.

Dallas 3, Portland 1

This series ends in game five, end of story. But Portland just won by 19, you might say. Can't they at least take another game? I'd like to direct your attention to the other playoffs going on right now, where New Jersey took a 3-0 lead over the Boston Bruins. Boston came back and won game four 5-1 before getting shut out 3-0 in game five. Just like New Jersey, Dallas took a meaningless game off because they could. They weren't playing for anything in game four and Portland was playing for pride.

Sacramento 2, Utah 1

Well, for the second year in a row, the Jazz surprised me by being able to take even one game from the Kings. I'm glad they did, because this is probably the last year together for John Stockton and Karl Malone and I guess it wouldn't be right if they were swept out of the playoffs. This series isn't interesting at all, however. Whereas every matchup in the Eastern Conference has some intrigue, the fun matchups in the Western Conference will be in the second round.

San Antonio 2, Phoenix 2

It's looking more and more like this was the worst first-round matchup possible for the Spurs, and this is not going to be an easy series for them to pull out. The interesting thing is that this was the first game of the series in which Tim Duncan led San Antonio in scoring. So the Spurs are getting contributions from other players, but still having trouble with the Suns. Ultimately, I think San Antonio will win (probably in seven games), but Phoenix will be a very tough team to deal with next year. Unless some Eastern Conference team lures a big free agent or two, I honestly think the Western Conference could be home to the best seven teams next year.

Millwood throws no-hitter

Kevin Millwood just threw the first no-hitter of the 2003 Major League Baseball season, leading Philadelphia past San Francisco. Millwood needed 108 pitches to throw the complete game, walking three and striking out 10. Millwood faced 29 batters as one of the walks was erased by a caught stealing.

Ricky Ledee provided all of the offense in the game with a solo fomer in the first, as three Giants pitchers held the Phillies to just four hits.

Millwood is now 4-1 with a 3.48 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. Good thing for the Braves they got Johnny Estrada, who's hitting .392 with a 1.034 OPS. Unfortunately, he's doing that in AAA Richmond.

Super Sports Sunday

The NFL Draft

Here are my thoughts on Day One of the NFL Draft in no particular order. I watched every minute of the coverage for the first 26 picks and then followed the rest from work.

1. New England's first day is starting to grow on me. I figured the Patriots would get Texas A&M DT Ty Warren and they did. Defensive tackle is their biggest need and, when healthy, he's perfect for the system they want to use and will allow Richard Seymour to move to defensive end. I was initially disappointed by the second-round picks of Illinois CB Eugene Wilson and Texas A&M WR Bethel Johnson, but now I like them. Wilson is a good cover corner, which is important because Bill Belichick often likes to use five defensive backs and the Patriots' safeties are better at stopping the run than coverage. Johnson is another small, fast receiver who will probably be used in the return game, allowing Troy Brown to concentrate on offense.

I'd still like to see New England sign Marcus Robinson to give Tom Brady a big weapon in the red zone, but the Patriots have put themselves in great shape. They came into the draft with 13 picks and they knew they couldn't sign that many players. The filled their biggest need (DT) and got younger at another position (CB) while putting themselves in great position for next season's draft. The Patriots now have two first-rounders and two second-rounders in what should be a deeper 2004 draft.

2. When Buffalo picked Miami RB Willis McGahee in the first round, I was torn at first. I believe McGahee will be able to make it back to where he was as a running back because he has shown that he's a quick healer and he has tremendous confidence. If he can get back to that level, he will probably end up being one of the best talents to come out of this draft. Getting an immense talent with the 23rd pick is great, but the Bills already have a good, young running back in Travis Henry and they just signed Olandis Gary to be Henry's backup. The Bills seemed to be in need of a defensive lineman, and I thought they were going for a home run at a position at which they didn't need help.

Then the Bills got lucky, however, as the defensive end many people projected them to take in the first round was still on the board when their second pick came up. Buffalo actually considered taking Nebraska DE Chris Kelsay in the first round before they settled on McGahee, and they didn't hesitate to scoop him up when he was still there in the second. So, the Bills got the defensive player they wanted AND a running back who could end up being the premier player from this year's crop. Sometimes, as they say, it's better to be lucky than good.

3. The portion of the draft from 1:07 to 1:13 has to have been the most exciting six minutes in NFL draft history. First, Minnesota's 15 minutes run out at 1:07. Jacksonville can now run up at any time and make a pick before the Vikings and the Jaguars do just that, taking Marshall QB Byron Leftwich at 1:08. Carolina was waiting and ready to go after Jacksonville and took Utah OT Jordan Gross at 1:10 before the Vikings finally picked Oklahoma State DT Kevin Williams at 1:11. Baltimore immediately took Arizona State DE Terrell Suggs and Seattle ended the craziness by taking Washington State CB Marcus Trufant at 1:13.

Apparently, Minnesota had been trying to trade with Baltimore because they figured that the player they wanted (Williams) would still be there at No. 10 and Baltimore wanted to take Leftwich ahead of Jacksonville. For some reason, though, Baltimore didn't get the card in to the league officials and Jacksonville was able to capitalize. Minnesota still got the right player, just not any extra picks. The Ravens, on the other hand, missed out on the QB they really wanted and had to trade their first-round pick in next year's draft to the Patriots in order to get California QB Kyle Boller, who may be very overrated.

4. ESPN had way too many people involved in this thing. The main set had Chris Berman, Denny Green, Chris Mortensen and Mel Kiper Jr. Another set had Mark Malone, Merril Hoge and Ron Jaworski reviewing college tape of the players who had been picked. I think it was Andrea Kramer who was in the room with four current players (including Bill Romanowski, who was very good) talking about the draft. I think it was Suzy Kolber who was at another set discussing things with Mike Golic. Chris Fowler was interviewing the players who were in attendance. Sal Paolantonio and Ed Werder provided occasional reports. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon were there for several Pardon The Interruption segments (which I loved because PTI is my favorite show on television right now).

Some of the people had interesting things to say some of the time, but overall it was just too much. Too many different people talking about too many different players. Even the people putting the draft show together couldn't keep it all straight as they put people on camera before they were ready and some of the people finishing their segments weren't exactly sure who they were sending the camera to for the next segment. If the people in charge can't keep it straight, how are the viewers supposed to? Good thing they're adding Kenny Mayne for part of tomorrow's coverage, I just can't wait to see what he brings to the table...

5. In the interest of full disclosure, I should let you know that I don't like Chris Berman. He's been using the same material for 25 years and he's just plain annoying at this point. So, maybe you shouldn't blindly listen when I say that he was awful yesterday.

The thing is, he's usually pretty good at the NFL draft. He does his research and usually has some insightful things to say when the camera's on him. Yesterday, however, he just didn't have it. He kept messing things up and having to stop in mid-sentence and correct himself and he got flustered whenever he had to do that. In the video conferencing with the coaches and GMs of the teams, it seemed like he wanted each of them to say specific things and when they didn't he just said it for them. I didn't laugh at any of his jokes (which isn't unusual) and he looked like he was fading about two hours in. I know he's an institution at ESPN and they probably feel like there's no need to get rid of him, but I honestly don't know a single person who likes Chris Berman.

That's about it. On the whole it was an amusing and at times exciting four hours for me yesterday, but I'm much more excited about watching the Celtics play game four in about 10 hours.