Around the Majors
Since I've already written about the Red Sox four times this week, I'm not going to do a "State of the Red Sox Saturday." Instead, I'm going to look at every game that was played last night and make an observation or two. I'll start, of course, with the Red Sox.
CLE/BOS - I know it's not even Memorial Day yet, but it's good to see the Red Sox alone in first place. It was also nice to see Nomar Garciaparra pick up two hits to extend his hitting streak to 23 games and get his batting average above .300 (.303) for the first time since April 19th. It was even nicer to see Derek Lowe throw a complete game four-hitter. If Lowe can keep pitching this well at home and become at least average on the road, the Red Sox will be happy with that.
TOR/NYY - So far, the Blue Jays look like geniuses for moving Kelvim Escobar to the rotation. Since he lost his job as the closer, he's pitched 15 innings and allowed just two runs on six hits with 17 strikeouts. The one warning sign? He's walked 11 batters, something to keep an eye on.
PHI/MON - Kevin Millwood battled on the mound, allowing just two runs in seven innings despite giving up three doubles, three singles and three walks. He also battled at the plate, drawing his first two walks of the year. Actually, he didn't even have to battle as the two walks took just nine pitches combined. I can't think of anything more frustrating for a manager than to watch his pitcher walk the other pitcher on four or five pitches. Just throw him strikes and let him ground out!
STL/PIT - Albert Pujols' streak of games with a home run ended at four, but the Cardinals probably don't mind. Pujols went 5-for-6 with two doubles, two runs and two RBI. He singled and either scored a run or drove in a run in the eighth, ninth and tenth innings as St. Louis scored eight runs in those three innings to stun the Pirates.
FLA/CIN - It must be nice to be a pitcher when you're batting in the first inning with nobody out. That's what happened for Tommy Phelps yesterday, as Florida's first eight batters all reached base (four walks, three singles and a double) and five of them scored. Also, Cincinnati's streak of consecutive games with a home run ended at 16.
NYM/ATL - Jeromy Burnitz hit a grand slam in his first game back from injury. Armando Benitez has yet to allow a run in May and has converted his last nine save opportunities. The Mets have won five of their last six games and are inching closer to .500.
DET/CWS - Mike Maroth finally picked up his first win of the season, allowing two runs on three hits and two walks with two strikeouts in seven innings. Detroit still has three pitchers on pace to lose at least 20 games (Jeremy Bonderman and Adam Bernero are the other two) and at least one of them will do it.
LA/MIL - What do you do when your uber-closer has pitched six games in seven days and you need a save? If you're the Dodgers, you just let Guillermo Mota pitch three shutout innings. Los Angeles has three relief pitchers with at least 15 innings pitched who have a lower ERA than Eric Gagne's 1.80 mark. Mota has a 0.94 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP.
BAL/TEX - Don't look now, but another Texas hitter is starting to get a little hot. Mark Teixeira is 4-for-10 with a double, triple, homer, three walks, four runs and six RBI in his last three games to raise his OPS to .758. That's scary because the first five hitters in the Rangers' lineup already each have at least nine homers and 30 RBI.
CHC/HOU - If you just looked at his line, you'd think Mark Prior got hammered yesterday. Well, instead of the six runs he gave up in the first, he should have allowed zero. The first batter reached on an error. After the second batter singled and both runners moved up on a passed ball, Prior got a popup and a ground ball. Should have been, at worst, two outs with an unearned run in, right? No, the popup was the first out, but the third baseman decided to go home with the groundball and did not get the runner at the plate. The inning should have been over, but the Cubs made an error and a poor decision compounded by a poor throw. Prior then allowed a walk, a single and a homer -- six runs, five earned, none deserved.
KC/OAK - Oakland is going to start telling it's relievers they don't have to come to the park when Mark Mulder pitches. Mulder threw another complete game last night, his fifth of the season. He's pitched at least eight innings in each of his last six starts. Even more impressive is that he's yet to throw more than 113 pitches in a game and he's averaging 102 pitches per start. Is it any surprise that of the top seven pitchers in the AL in innings pitched, three of them are A's? Mulder leads the majors with 77 innings pitched.
SF/COL - Is Larry Walker struggling? Well, he hasn't gotten a hit in six games and his batting average is down to .243, so he must be, right? Not so fast. Walker did go 0-for-1 last night, but he also drew four walks. He now has 31 walks on the season and a .398 OBP. With seven doubles, five triples and four homers, Walker also has a .450 SLG for a decent .848 OPS. That's probably just average when you play half your games in Coor Field, but Walker's not slumping nearly as badly as it looks.
TB/ANA - Just when he goes hitless in three games and I'm about to write that his numbers will be below average before we know it, Rocco Baldelli goes 4-for-5 with a home run. The kid is batting a ridiculous .433 when he puts the ball in play and he's on pace for 224 hits, 65 extra-base hits and 103 RBI as a 21-year-old rookie. I obviously don't think he'll come close to those numbers, but that he's still on pace for them near the end of May is impressive.
MIN/SEA - Quick, why do the Mariners have the best record in the AL? Because they're second in the league in ERA, right? Wrong. The Mariners are in first place because they have great pitching AND great hitting. Seattle is fifth in the AL in runs and the top six hitters in the Mariners' lineup all have an OBP of at least .367. Randy Winn, the number seven hitter, had an OBP around .360 until his recent 2-for-12 skid. Seattle's .358 team OBP is third in the AL, just two points behind Toronto (Toronto, the Yankees, Seattle and Boston are all clumped together at the top and 11 points clear of everybody else). Oakland's is 30 points worse and 10th in the league.
SD/ARI - Ramon Vazquez drew another walk last night and now has 27 this season (on pace for 91). His opposite number, both in the batting order and on the field, was Tony Womack, who has two walks and is on pace to draw seven this year. Last year, Vazquez drew 45 walks and Womack drew 46. What was the difference? Vazquez played 128 games and was a promising, young hitter who could help the Padres in the leadoff spot for years to come. Womack played 153 games and was an over-the-hill veteran whose terrible offense is absolutely killing the Diamondbacks this season.
Well, that's all 15 games. Since I'm not sure if I'll be able to make any posts tomorrow (I have a wedding to go to), I may as well take a look at the other sports while I'm here.
I watched Annika Sorenstam's front nine yesterday and I was more nervous for each of her shots than I usually am for an important Red Sox game. I really wanted her to make the cut. The best part, though, was that "Mike and the Mad Dog" were on the YES Network and they were watching Annika play while doing their radio show. But the feed they were watching was a little behind the one I was watching, so I could watch Annika's shot and then flip the channel and watch their reaction to Annika's shot. It was very cool because Mike really wanted her to make the cut and Chris (Mad Dog) really wanted her not to.
So, the Stanley Cup Finals are set, with Anaheim playing New Jersey. I picked New Jersey to win it all, but I'd like to see the Mighty Ducks finish their Cinderella Story. One thing should be certain about this series -- there won't be many goals.
In the NBA, we're a few days away from a San Antonio/New Jersey finals matchup (just what I predicted, I'd like to point out). Detroit may not get swept, but there's no way the Pistons come back to win this. And the Mavericks have shown more than anybody thought they had, but they cannot win even one more game without Dirk Nowitzki, especially if Tim Duncan continues his streak of games with at least 30 points and 15 rebounds. Duncan had 34 points, 24 rebounds, six assists and six blocks yesterday.
The Nets/Spurs series should be interesting, because Duncan will obviously be the best inside player and Jason Kidd will obviously be the best perimeter player. The question is how much do Kenyon Martin and Tony Parker give up in their matchups and which team can better recover from that gap in talent. I picked the Spurs at the beginning of the playoffs, so I'll stick with them now.
By the way, don't bother feeling sorry for the Detroit Pistons. Detroit just got the number two pick in the draft in exchange for a player they traded away six years ago. One of the big Detroit fans I work with said that he's more happy with getting that pick than he is upset that the Pistons are about to be eliminated. If Darko Milicic is as good as everybody says he is, then the Pistons could be the class of the Eastern Conference for several years. Actually, if Kidd stays in New Jersey, the Nets and Pistons could help the East reduce the gap between the two conferences.
Before I let you go, I'll make one more prediction. Michael Andretti will finally win his first Indy 500 tomorrow before he retires and Sarah Fisher will finish in the top 10.