MLB General

The Full Count: Ray of hope

1. Coming out of Nowhere: Possibly the most underreported story of the year has been the random emergence of Devil Rays first baseman Carlos Pena. Despite playing on the league’s worst team, Pena has 37 homers (2nd in the league), 105 RBIs (4th), and a 1.014 OPS (3rd). All of those numbers rank higher than David Ortiz, Justin Morneau, and a host of other All Stars. Pena led the charge for the D-Rays on Wednesday with 2 homers and 7 RBIs in a 17-2 rout of the Orioles. Eight of Tampa’s nine starters had a multi-hit game, and they had 22 hits and 5 homers in all. The real story is Pena, who has 9 homers and 22 RBIs in his last 11 games. The D-Rays have won 8 of those 11 games, but are still the worst team in baseball. Pena’s play would warrant MVP consideration if he played on almost any other team in the majors.

2. The Terrific Tribe: After finishing in a disappointing fourth place last season, the Indians are rolling in first and have already passed their 2006 win total. They completed their second consecutive sweep of the Twins on Wednesday in a 6-2 win. Overall they finished 14-4 against the Twins this year, with four sweeps in six series. Fausto Carmona, who improved to 15-8 with the victory, has been a surprise standout for the Indians. Though his numbers rival CC Sabathia in most major categories (3.27 ERA vs. 3.24), he hasn’t generated nearly as much Cy Young talk. On offense, Travis Hafner has regained his swing with 13 RBIs his last 11 games. Victor Martinez knocked in his 100th RBI of the season and 400th for his career. Over all, the Indians are a whopping seven games ahead of the still-struggling Tigers, who led the division the majority of the season.

3. The Brewers are Back: The Brewers, who were awful in August and fell to third place, now have a chance to capture the division lead. They are only a half game back after winning 4 out of 5, and their upcoming schedule is as easy as it gets. They have multiple series against the worst teams in their division, playing Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Houston over the next two weeks. The Cubs’ schedule is just as easy, as they will not play a winning team the rest of the season. The Brewers just finished up a series with the Astros, which they won 2-1. On Wednesday, they hit five homers in a 14-2 victory. Prince Fielder went deep for the 41st time, which is second in the majors. Rookie of the Year lock Ryan Braun hit his 28th homer. Braun has 78 RBIs and a .334 average in 91 games this year. For Milwaukee, the victory was the 45th at home this year, the most in the NL and third-most in the majors. On the other hand, their road record is awful at 26-42.

Player of the Day: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: 2-3, 2 HR (48), 3 RBIs (134) in a 10-2 win over Seattle. A-Rod continues to pad his numbers and remains the clear MVP favorite. The Yankees now lead the Mariners by three games in the wild card race.

MLB General

The Full Count: Oh these divisions races are excellent

1. The Lead is Gone: The Diamondbacks’ NL West lead over the Padres, which was 4 games on August 19, has now disappeared. San Diego has won the first three games of their series with Arizona and 7 of their last 8 overall. The Padres won 3-1 on Wednesday thanks to Greg Maddux’s excellent pitching. Maddux issued no walks for his sixth straight start, going seven innings with one run allowed. The Padres won the game in the eighth with two runs off Arizona relievers. Arizona, which has dropped three of its last seven games, will face the Padres four more times within the next week. Ace Chris Young will take the mound for the Padres in the final game of the series as they try to complete the sweep.

2. Statement Series: The Angels showed the Mariners who’s boss in the AL West division by sweeping them in dominant fashion. The Angels outscored the M’s 24-8 on the series, including an 8-2 win on Wednesday. Jered Weaver was excellent, throwing eight innings with one earned run, five strikeouts, and no walks. The offense backed him up well, with 17 hits. Red-hot Garrett Anderson went 4-5, and Vlad Guerrero hit his 22nd homer on the year. The Angels teed off on Felix Hernandez, who allowed a season-high 13 hits and 6 runs. The Angels won their fourth straight while Seattle lost for the fifth time in a row. The gap in the AL West has increased to 5 games, though it was only one at this time last week.

3. Indian Warfare: The Indians are crushing all opponents and widening their lead over the Tigers at the same time. Cleveland has won five straight and extended their division lead to a huge 4.5 games. Meanwhile Detroit continues to struggle, losing two straight to the Royals. The Indians completed a sweep of the Twins with a 4-3 win on Wednesday. In a matchup of Cy Young candidates, CC Sabathia proved to be better than Johan Santana. Both went six innings, with Sabathia allowing two runs and Santana four. Santana had his second straight below-standard start after that 17-strikeout performance a couple weeks ago. He lost his fourth game since the All Star break, when he usually dominates. Sabathia allowed exactly two runs for the sixth straight start, and has a 2.97 ERA since the All Star break. He became the eighth member of the 15-win club with the victory.

Player of the Day: Aaron Harang, Reds: 9 innings, two hits, no runs, 8 strikeouts in an 8-0 win over the Pirates. The underrated Harang has by far the best winning percentage in the league with a 14-3 record.

MLB General

The Full Count: Garrett Anderson gets a week’s worth of fantasy points in one game

1. One Man, 10 RBIs: Garrett Anderson of the Angels gave one of the greatest single-game performances of the season on Tuesday against the Yankees. Anderson powered the Angels to an 18-9 win with 10 RBIs, tying a franchise record and coming up one shy of the AL record. Anderson’s RBIs came off a three-run homer, and grand slam, and two run-scoring doubles. Ironically, the last person to reach 10 RBIs in a game, Alex Rodriguez, hit two homeruns for the opposing Yankees. That gave him 42 on the year as well as 121 RBIs, both of which lead the majors by a mile. But it wasn’t enough as the Angels put up ridiculous numbers offensively. Howie Kendrick went 4-5, Macier Izturis scored 4 runs, and Vlad Guerrero knocked in his 100th RBI as the Angels won their third straight. They are holding on to a two-game lead in front of the red-hot Mariners, while the Yankees have fallen to six games back behind the Red Sox.

2. Outdueled: The Indians’ Fausto Carmona shut down the Tigers, yet was outpitched by second-time starter Jair Jurrjens in Detroit’s 2-1 win. Carmona went eight innings, with three hits, two runs, and no walks allowed, but it wasn’t enough. The Indians were limited to only one hit by Jurrijens, and the Tigers’ bullpen was perfect. Joel Zumaya returned in his first appearance since May 1. Zumaya will be key to the Tigers’ stretch run, as their bullpen has been one of their biggest issues since his injury. The Tigers got homers from Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen in a game where all runs were scored off solo shots. The Tigers could pass Cleveland by Wednesday, as they are only a half-game back. Both of these teams have fallen behind the wild card leaders New York and Seattle in their recent struggles, so they both need to win the division to make the playoffs.

3. Beltran is Back: After a monstrous 2006 season was followed by an even better April, Carlos Beltran has struggled the majority of this season. He batted under .230 from May through July. However, in the past week alone he has managed to regain his power swing, with 6 homers and 18 RBIs in his last ten games. Beltran’s resurgence, which directly followed a short spell on the DL, has coincided with a dominant run by the Mets. They have won 7 of their last 8 games, giving them a comfortable five game lead in the division. On Tuesday they roughed up MLB ERA leader Chris Young and the Padres, winning 7-6. Beltran went 3-3 with a homer and five RBIs, and a two-run rally in the ninth off Trevor Hoffman gave the Mets the victory. If Beltran can continue swinging at nearly this level, and if Carlos Delgado can play to his potential, the Mets will have a nearly unbeatable lineup to go along with their improved pitching staff.

Player of the Day: Garrett Anderson, Angels: 4-6, 2 HRs, 10 RBIs in an 18-9 win over the Yankees.

MLB General

The Full Count: Tigers claim first place

1. The Rally for First: Once again the Detroit Tigers are the division leaders after beating Cleveland 6-2 in ten innings. They won thanks to four runs in the tenth off Indians closer Joe Borowski. Gary Sheffield started it off with an RBI single, then red-hot Magglio Ordonez hit a three-run homer. Ordonez has re-inserted himself into the AL MVP race with an unbelievable August. Ordonez has 6 homers and 20 RBI this month, both American League-leading totals. He also has a 1.363 OPS this month, which is first in the majors. Starter Jeremy Bonderman broke out of his slump in this one with 7 innings, 2 runs, and 8 strikeouts. It was Bonderman’s first quality start since July 19. The Tigers and Indians will play again tomorrow, then a three-game set next week.

2. Padre Power: The San Diego Padres gained a game on the Diamondbacks after pounding Colorado 8-0. They scored all their runs in the first four innings off Jeff Francis, including a 6-run second inning. Kevin Kouzmanoff hit a homer and three RBIs, and Morgan Ensberg added a long ball as well. Greg Maddux pitched five-plus shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 4.00. The Padres have now won two in a row compared to Arizona’s two straight losses, bringing them within two games in the divisional race. San Diego also leads the wild card by a game over Philadelphia.

3. You’re Outta Here: Yet another record was set on Tuesday. This one has been waiting almost two months to be broken. Bobby Cox, the Braves’ legendary manager, was ejected for the 132nd time in his career, breaking John McGraw’s major league record. He was tossed for arguing balls and strikes after Chipper Jones was struck out looking with the Braves trailing 3-0. The Braves rallied to win 5-4, ironically winning off Jones’ hit in the ninth. It was the first ejection for Cox since June 23, giving him 43 straight games without an ejection before this one. McGraw had been ejected 14 times as a player, so Cox already held the record for managers.

Player of the Day: Jack Cust, A’s: 2-3, 2 HRs (20), 3 RBIs in a 4-3 win over the White Sox. Cust has 12 RBIs in his last six games, and is on pace for 30 homers this season.

MLB General

The Full Count: The Evil Empire is within spittin distance

1. The Comeback Continues: The Yankees proved over the weekend that their recent success has not been a product of a weak schedule. They swept the Indians by a combined 22-6 score, knocking them out of first place. With New York’s 5-3 win on Sunday combined with the Red Sox’s loss, the Yankees drew within four games of Boston for the first time since April. Andy Pettitte pitched 7 excellent innings, and the offense backed him up in the victory. The Yanks now have a 24-8 record since the All Star break, which no other team in the majors is even close to. After an easy series against the Orioles, they will face a murderer’s row of a schedule, with two series against the Tigers and one against the Angels and Red Sox. If they play as they have recently, that series against Boston could send the Yankees to first place.

2. Back at the Top: The Detroit Tigers just finished their worst stretch so far this season, but after two wins in a row, they’re back in first. However, they shouldn’t get their hopes up. They slumped in the easier part of their schedule, and now in the next two weeks they will face Cleveland five times and the Yankees eight times. At least Detroit’s offense is back on track. They’ve scored 26 runs their last three games, including an 11-6 win on Sunday. Magglio Ordonez hit two homeruns in the second inning, in which the Tigers scored eight runs. Ordonez, who has five homers his last eight games, passed both the 20 homer and 100 RBI marks in the same game.

3. Ridiculous Records: In what has been a season filled with milestones and records, two extraordinary but under-publicized records were tied on Sunday. First off, Placido Polanco of the Tigers tied the major league record for consecutive games at second base without an error with 143. He tied Luis Castillo’s mark, which was set earlier this season. Polanco has not made an error since July 1, 2006, and his 104 errorless games this year at second are the new single-season mark. Another, even more amazing record was tied by Bobby Jenks of the White Sox. Jenks has retired 41 consecutive batters, breaking an American League record and tying the major league record. Jenks has 13 2/3 consecutive perfect innings, a simply mind-boggling total. If a starter had set this record, it would be receiving a lot more attention.

Player of the Day: Jeff Weaver, Mariners: 9 innings, no runs, 8 strikeouts in a 6-0 win over Chicago. Weaver’s ERA (5.64) is lower than it has been all season.

MLB General

The Full Count: Lou Pinella is earning his paycheck

1. Here Come the Cubs: The Chicago Cubs have gone from a disappointment to two games back in the division over the last two months. They are 31-15 since June 2 after yet another win on Wednesday. Red-hot starter Ted Lilly won his seventh straight decision, improving to 11-4 on the year. Lilly is 5-0 in July with a 1.83 ERA. He helped the Cubs beat the Cardinals 7-1, giving them a 2-0 series lead in St. Louis. The Cubs now are right on the tails of Milwaukee, who has led the division almost the entire season. With an excellent pitching staff that has allowed the second-fewest runs in the National League (San Diego), the Cubs certainly have the tools to make the playoffs.

2. 2 games, 2 runs: The Indians and Red Sox are two high-scoring teams, but the last two games of their series have been all about pitching. After a 1-0 win for Boston on Tuesday, Cleveland won 1-0 on Wednesday. Fausto Carmona, the most underrated pitcher in the majors this season, outdeuled Josh Beckett for the win. Beckett (13-4, 3.27 ERA) has received all the attention, but Carmona (13-4, 3.31) has been just as good. Carmona pitched eight shutout innings for his second straight start, and is 5-0 in the month of July. Beckett went eight strong but lost for the third time since June 30.

3. Nearing Milestones: This season in baseball has been highlighted by milestones, from Bonds’ homerun chase to Clemens’ 350th win to Biggio’s 3000th hit. On Wednesday, two players came closer to two of the game’s most important marks. Tom Glavine won his 299th career game, while Alex Rodriguez hit his 499th career homerun. Glavine improved to 9-6 on the season despite a 4.51 ERA. He has a 6.35 ERA since June 10 but is still 3-3 in that span. Glavine is now 299-197 for his career and remains one of the more underappreciated players in the game. Meanwhile, A-Rod hit his league-leading 35th homer of the year in the Yankees’ sixth straight win. He also now has 102 RBIs, becoming the first player in the league this season to reach triple digit RBIs. His 499 homers have come over only 12 seasons, and he now has ten straight years of 35 or more long balls. These players should reach 300 and 500 within the next week, well before Bonds hits 755.

Player of the Day: Ryan Raburn, Tigers: 4-5, 2 homers, 7 RBIs, 3 runs in the Tigers’ 13-9 win over Chicago. Raburn, who is playing in his first major league season since 2004, made good use of his fourth start of the season.

MLB General

The Full Count: Dice-K outduels Sabathia

Can I get some run support?

1. Duel of the Day: Pitcher’s duels don’t get much better than the one on Tuesday, when Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka and Cleveland’s CC Sabathia were at their best. Both went seven innings, with Dice-K allowing no runs and Sabathia one. The Red Sox ended up winning 1-0, with the only score coming off a Mike Lowell RBI single. For Sabathia, it was his third loss in his last four starts, dropping him to 13-5. Matsuzaka, meanwhile, is now 12-7 with a 3.79 ERA. Now all the hype surrounding him earlier has all but vanished, even though he’s pitching much better than he did earlier in the year. Sabathia, with a 3.70 ERA himself, may no longer be a Cy Young candidate, but he’s still an ace on one of the league’s best teams.

2. Back on Top: The New York Mets are back where they should be: on top on the National League. They have regained the league’s best record at 56-43, thanks to a 7-4 record since the All Star break despite tough opponents. The Mets held their own last week in a brutal road trip to San Diego and Los Angeles, going .500. Now they face Pittsburgh and Washington at home, the former of which they defeated 8-4 last night. John Maine pitched seven solid innings for his 11th win. The underrated Maine has been the Mets’ ace this year, with a 3.04 ERA and .219 opponents’ average. He is part of a pitching staff that ranks third in the NL in ERA. Their offense, though nowhere as near as good as last year, is at least above-average. If their pitching can remain excellent, which it has been, the Mets will remain the league’s best team.

3. I’ll be there for you: Bud Selig, after way too much controversy for such a minor issue, has announced he will be in attendance when Barry Bonds breaks Aaron’s homerun record. Bonds, whose 43rd birthday yesterday was spoiled by the Braves’ 7-5, 13-inning win, remains at 753 career homeruns. He hit two out last week against the Cubs, but has gone 2-14 since then. Selig could be forced to attend the Giants’ games for two weeks while waiting for Bonds to break the record. It’s still the right decision, and one that shouldn’t have taken so long for Selig to make. While the other sports’ commissioners are dealing with huge issues right now (dogfighting, ref betting), Selig gets to watch a great athlete beat a greater record. What Bonds may have done to get there should remain irrelevant for the commissioner of baseball.

Player of the Day: Craig Biggio, Astros: 2-4, Grand Slam (6) in the Astros’ 7-4 win over the Dodgers. This came on the day he announced he will retire after this season.

MLB General

The Full Count: Chris Young makes his case

There is a possibility that there will be NO SOUP FOR YOU!! Every year there is that one All-Star snub that just baffles everyone. This year’s candidate has to be Padres pitcher Chris Young. Young will probably make the NL team, one way or the other. He can be voted in in the final online voting, which ends at 6 p.m. Eastern today, or he could replace an injured player, such as John Smoltz of the Braves. However, in last nights game against the Marlins, Young made the proverbial statement that he should’ve already freakin’ been there, LaRussa, with another stellar outing. Young went seven innings, allowing no runs while striking out nine. Like the proverbial broken record, he got a no decision for his effort. It was the seventh time Young has carried a shutout into the seventh inning this season, and the fourth in which he got no decision. In 17 starts, Young has allowed only 23 earned runs. Not to get all editorial after your July 4 hangover, but if the game is going to count as far as awarding home field advantage in the World Series, then managers Tony LaRussa and Jim Leyland should be able to pick the best team available, and not be hamstrung by the every-team-must-be-represented rule.

Old Man River does it againThe Tigers snapped the Indians six-game winning streak 6-4, with the help of Kenny Rogers. Rogers won his third straight start since coming of the DL and kept the Tigers two games behind Cleveland in the Central and 1.5 games ahead of the Mariners for the Wild Card. Carlos Guillen led the offense by going 3 for 4 with a run-scoring triple. It was Rogers’ sixth straight win going back to last year’s postseason, and he has allowed only four earned runs this year.

I love New York, it’s the rest of the league that’s the problem. The Colorado Rockies became the first team since 1956 to sweep two New York teams in the same season. The Rock gave the Mets an old fashioned Coors enema, pounding out 20 hits and 17 runs and forcing Mets pitchers to throw 233 pitches (including 107 in 4 innings by El Duque Hernandez). The Rockies swept the Yankees three weeks ago, and outscored the Gothams 47-17 overall. Unfortunatley, they have no more games left against New York teams. Bye bye wild card hopes.

Player of the Day: Garrett Atkins, Rockies. 4 for 5, HR, 5 RBI and 2 runs scored in a 17-7 win over the Mets.

MLB General

The Full Count: Clemens notches win #350

It’s still not as awesome as the Mile High Club, but Roger Clemens joined some exclusive company Monday night by notching career victory no. 350 as the Yankees beat the Twins 5-1. Clemens was his old dominant self, going eight innings, giving up two hits while walking none. He joined Warren Spahn as the only pitcher in the live ball era to win at least 350 games. Clemens now stands at eighth all-time in victories. If he can get 14 more, he can pass Spahn’s for fifth place. Perhaps unrealistiically, he can try to catch Grover Cleveland Alexander and Christy Mathewson for third place at 373 wins. Or, he can finally admit what we’ve been suspecting for years…that he’s replaced all of his muscles with cyborg parts and he plans on winning 512 games to surpass Cy Young as the all-time leader.

Let’s register right now, because he now has a winning percentage of .000. John McClaren made his surprise managerial debut for the Seattle Mariners last night in Kansas City, as their eight-game winning streak came to an end against the Royals. McClaren, who was the bench coach as of Sunday, replaced possible AL manager of the year candidate Mike Hargrove, who suddenly resigned, citing a lost passion for the game. Despite a great outing from Felix Hernandez, the Mariners were only able to scratch out two runs and lost the game in the 11th on an anti-climatic sacrifice fly.

HEY! In case you haven’t noticed, the Indians have managed to win a few here and there, and are now threatening to lap the Detroit Tigers for first place in the AL Central. The Indians completed a four-game sweep of the perpetually lowly Devil Rays at Jacobs Field over the weekend and are playing great baseball just in time for a pre All Star Break Showdown in Mowtown (has anyone used that slogan before? If not, we call dibs). Surprising youngster Fausto Carmona had a great outing, striking out eight in six innings to pick up his ninth win of the season. Grady Sizemore hit his second career grand slam in the laugher. The Tribe currently leads the Tigers by two games.

Player of the day: Damian Miller, Brewers. Having not played since hitting a walk-off homer last Wednesday, Miller picked up where he left off by going 4-5 with two HR (including a grand slam) and 7 RBI’s against the Pirates. Hey (manager) Ned Yost, you might not want to start this guy just once every five days.

Cleveland Indians

The Full Count: The A’s get and "F" for effort

1. Losing streak over–not!: It seemed like the A’s recent slide would end as they led the Indians 5-3 going into the ninth inning on Tuesday. But Cleveland rallied for the win, taking a share of the division lead in the process. A two-run double by Travis Hafner tied the score up, then a three-run homer by pinch-hitter Kelly Shoppach won it for the Indians. The A’s have now lost five in a row and are nine games out of the division lead. Cleveland is tied with Detroit again after the Tigers dropped two in a row to the lousy Rangers.

2. The Brewers are Back: The Brewers have returned to the level of play they showed in late April and early May, giving them a huge division lead and the NL’s best record once again. Milwaukee has won 11 of their last 13 to improve to 45-32, with a 7.5 game lead over the Cubs. They routed the Astros 11-5 on Tuesday thanks to a nine-run sixth inning. Rickie Weeks hit a single that scored three runs due to an error, and it was followed by Tony Graffanino’s pinch-hit two-run homer and Johnny Estrada’s grand slam. Given the Brewers’ level of play recently, they own the NL Central unless another contender emerges.

3. The AL’s dark horse: Believe it or not, the Seattle Mariners are legit contenders in the American League. They’ve won six of their last seven and four in a row to move to 41-33, which puts them four games out of a wild card spot. They’ve beaten the Red Sox the first two games of their series, including a wild 8-7 victory yesterday. Richie Sexson hit a key two-run homer which gave the Mariners a lead they wouldn’t give up in the sixth inning. Ichiro pounded out two more hits to raise his average to .362, good for second in the league behind Magglio Ordonez. He’s hitting .411 this month.

Player of the Day: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Braves: 2-4, 2 HR (4), 2 RBIs as the Braves beat the Nats 6-2.