MLB General

The Full Count: Dice-K Dominates

1. The Dice-K we were waiting for: After all the preseason hype and promising first start, Daisuke Matsuzaka was plagued by a streak of poor outings. But to start off a series between AL heavyweights (Red Sox vs. Tigers), Dice-K gave his best effort yet. He threw his first MLB complete game, gave up just one run, and threw a whopping 124 pitches in the Red Sox’s 7-1 win. The victory gave the Red Sox an 8.5 game division lead, their largest since 1995, and they have the best record in the league at 26-11. This four-game series at Fenway should be one of the more entertaining so far this year. The Tigers will send Justin Verlander to the mound on Tuesday to face AL ERA leader Tim Wakefield.

2. Nearly a no-hitter: The Braves-Nationals game featured a pitching matchup of 18-year vet John Smoltz and first-year starter Jason Bergmann. Surprisingly, it was Bergmann who delivered a gem: 8 innings, 2 hits, and 10 strikeouts. He no-hit the Braves until the 8th inning, when Brian McCann hit a solo homer. Smoltz wasn’t bad either, but the Braves couldn’t muster any offense in a 2-1 loss. The win extends a season-high four-game win streak for the 13-25 Nationals, and Bergmann’s start was the highlight of their season so far. Atlanta’s loss combined with a Mets win puts New York back in first.

3. All About the Pitchers: This season has been dominated by pitching, and yesterday continued that trend. Dice-K and Bergmann were great, as well as Greg Maddux, Dan Haren, Gil Meche, and Tom Gorzelanny. Maddux pitched a complete-game with one run allowed in the Padres’ 7-1 win over Cincinnati. Meche and Haren pitched a combined 15 scoreless innings in the Royals-A’s game, giving both pitchers an ERA under 2.00. The Royals won on a ninth-inning homerun by John Buck. The surprising Gorzelanny improved to 5-2 with a 2.36 ERA after seven shutout innings in a win over the Marlins. In other pitching news, the Angels’ Jered Weaver returned to form with a great start against the Rangers, which lowered his ERA from 4.26 to 3.62.

Player of the Day: JJ Hardy, Brewers: 2-5, HR, 3 RBIs in a 6-8 loss to the Phillies. This is more of a season-achievement award for Hardy, who now leads the National League with 12 homers and 37 RBIs. It is hard to even imagine a more surprising start than that of Hardy, who already has set his career high for homeruns.

MLB General

The Full Count: Exceeding expectations

1. A Penny Earned: Brad Penny has exceeded everyone’s expectations this year in being one of the best pitchers in the majors. On Monday he had his most dominant start of the season against the Marlins. Penny had 14 strikeouts in 7 shutout innings. Amazingly, he only had 15 strikeouts the whole season up until this game. Now Penny is 4-0 with a 1.39 ERA, good for second in the majors behind John Maine. He has reeled off seven straight quality starts this season, and has yet to give up a homer. The Dodgers won 6-1, helped offensively by Jeff Kent and breakout catcher Russell
Martin. They have a one-game lead over San Diego in the NL West.

2. Best vs. Worst: The best team in the league played the worst one on Monday, and the result was basically what you would expect. The 22-10 Brewers shut down the 9-23 Nationals as Chris Capuano gave his best start this year. Capuano went 8 innings, had 9 strikeouts, and played a huge role in the 3-0 shutout of Washington. Capuano is now 5-0 and has a 16-inning scoreless streak. As the season goes on, Milwaukee is starting to look less and less like a fluke and more like this year’s Detroit Tigers.

3. Other unbeatens: Penny and Capuano are among a multitude of pitchers who have not lost this season. Most notably is 6-0 Josh Beckett, who has won the most games in the majors this year. CC Sabathia and major league ERA leader John Maine are 5-0. At 3-0 there’s resurgent Bartolo Colon of the Angels, who’s pitching better than he did in his Cy Young season. Also, Mike Maroth is 2-0 despite a 5.35 ERA, Jeremy Bonderman is 1-0 with five no-decisions, James Shields of Tampa is 3-0, Baltimore’s Adam Loewen is 2-0, and Milwaukee’s Claudio Vargas is 3-0. All those undefeated pitchers combined with the 24 who have an ERA under 3.00, and it’s no surprise that pitching has been dominant this season.

Player of the Day: Bengie Molina, Giants: 2-3, 2 HR, 5 RBIs in a 9-4 win over the Mets. Both of Molina’s homeruns and all of the Giants’ runs came in a 9-run fifth inning.

Stat of the Day: Roy Oswalt is 19-1 in his career against the Reds. He beat them on Monday to improve to 5-2. Only four other pitchers in major league history took 19 of 20 from the same team, according to Elias Sports.

MLB General

The Full Count: No No-No in Ninth

1. Close but not quite: No pitcher has recorded a no-hitter in more than two years, since Randy Johnson was perfect in May 2004. But a very unlikely pitcher came very close to the feat yesterday. It was the Nationals’ Ramon Ortiz, who took a no-no into the ninth inning against the Cardinals. But it was broken up by an Aaron Miles leadoff single, and then by an Albert Pujols homerun (43). So perfection dodged yet another pitcher yesterday, and in the end this is just an insignificant last place over first place win for the Nats.

2. Back and forth: At one point in the season the Minnesota Twins weren’t even near the playoff picture. But now the Twins and the White Sox are trading around the Wild Card lead almost daily. Now the lead is in the hands on the Twins, who defeated the Devil Rays 2-1 yesterday. It was their 13th straight win against Tampa. Chicago is now right behind after a narrow 3-2 loss to the Red Sox, who witnessed the return of many key players yesterday. With Manny Ramirez, Trot Nixon, and Jason Varitek back in the lineup, the Sox defeated the Sox in extras. Chicago did see another great start by Jon Garland, who is 8-1 with a 2.83 ERA since the All Star break. Minnesota and Chicago won’t play each other again until the last series of the season, at the Metrodome.

3. Barry’s back: Barry Bonds had yet to catch his usual form this year, which could be his last as a Giant. But now he is in the groove like he was from 2001-2004, and he is hitting homeruns like there’s no tomorrow. Bonds went deep for the third straight game yesterday, helping the Giants to a 5-4 win in Cincy. In his last six games Bonds has 5 homers, 7 RBIs, and is slugging a preposterous 1.412. He’s only 25 back of Aaron now with 730 career homeruns. When will he catch him? Sometime next summer, if he plays.

4. Pitching=success: The Los Angeles Angels have remained in the playoff hunt, and it’s not because of their offense. It’s their pitching staff that’s carried them this season, like yesterday when they defeated the Orioles 1-0. Jered Weaver returned to form after two straight losses with 7 shutout innings. Then Francisco Rodriguez, also known as K-Rod, shut the door for his 39th save of the season. That ties him with Bobby Jenks for the major-league lead, and Rodriguez remains the most underrated closer in baseball. At age 24 he has 98 career saves and a 2.32 career ERA, including a 1.82 mark this year. The Angels are now 6.5 back of the A’s in the AL West even though they have won 3 straight. Their staff will need to carry them if they want to make the postseason again.

5. To return or not to return: The Twins, already leading the WC as mentioned before, could get a boost by the middle of the month. Francisco Liriano threw 78 pitches in a bullpen session yesterday, and said that he felt great. He will throw in batting practice on Wednesday and could return before mid-September. With their other injured starter, Brad Radke, there is more questions. Radke, who hasn’t thrown since August 25, has a stress fracture in his right shoulder. The doctors have told him not to pitch for a few weeks as he recovers, though no specific return date has been announced.

MLB General

The Full Count: Dodgers chugging along

1. The wins keep on coming: The LA Dodgers have been the most inconsistent team in baseball for the last month. After losing 12 out of 13 games, the team has now won 11 in a row. Last night they won 4-2 over Colorado, with former Braves Rafael Furcal and Wilson Betemit hitting homers. Greg Maddux, in his second start with the team, pitched well but got a no-decision. Los Angeles is suddenly a half-game back of the slipping Padres for the NL West lead. They have the best offense in the division, while inexplicably the Rockies have allowed the fewest runs in the NL.

2. Blown away: The Yankees-White Sox series looked entertaining on paper, and last night’s kickoff game didn’t disappoint. New York, via a homerun by Alex Rodriguez, was leading 5-4 going into the ninth inning. Of course they put in Mariano Rivera, but he faltered by blowing his third save of the year. Rivera allowed a homerun to Paul Konerko, sending the game into extras. The White Sox won on Jermaine Dye’s RBI single in the 11th, giving them the AL Wild Card lead once again. The Yankees, due to a Boston loss, are still two games ahead in the AL East.

3. Red Tide: The Reds, after being crushed 13-1 in their series opener against the Cardinals, retaliated with a 10-3 victory of their own. Ryan Freel had 3 of the Reds’ 17 hits, and also made a spectacular diving catch that saved a run. Adam Dunn and Rich Aurilla hit 2 hits and 3 RBIs apiece, while Eric Milton cruised through six innings. For the Cardinals, Jason Marquis was saddled with his 10th loss of the season. He only lasted 60 pitches and 2.2 innings, even though he only was charged with 4 runs. The loss put the Cardinals back to 3.5 games ahead of the Reds, who are still tied with Los Angeles for the Wild Card lead. Both teams have only 3 wins in their last 10 games.

4. Can you pitch?: The Braves have asked that question to numerous players this year, and few have worked out. Their bullpen troubles have been well-chronicled, though their starting pitching has been equally awful lately. Tim Hudson in particular has been mediocre; coming into last night’s game he had allowed 4 earned runs or more in 8 of his last 9 starts. But he finally was able to pitch well yesterday, allowing no runs in 7 innings against the Phillies. He struck out 8 as the Braves won 3-1, their least runs allowed as a team since July 23.

5. We knew it was a bad trade: Almost everyone was in agreement over the Reds-Nationals trade in mid-July: the Nationals got the better part of the deal. They received Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez for relievers Bill Bray and Gary Majewski. Now, after Majewski was placed on the DL, even the Reds’ GM is questioning the trade. According to numerous news sources, Wayne Krivsky called Nats GM Jim Bowden to ask why the team hadn’t told him about Majewski’s sore shoulder. Majewski had received a cortisone shot right before the transaction was made, and apparently the Reds didn’t know about it. Naturally, Bowden declined that he was even contacted by the Reds, and he claims that the Nationals provided all the medical information they were asked for. Krivsky might file a grievance over the deal, and this could get nasty.

MLB General

Full Count for Fri May 26 2006: There actually is crying in baseball

…it’s only Nats wasteland

1. This really shouldn’t be that emotional: Frank Robinson was crying after Thursday’s game despite his Nationals’ 8-5 victory over the Astros. This was because he had to use an extremely rare move–benching a catcher in the middle of an inning. It’s not like this move was unjustified either–backup catcher Matthew LeCroy had allowed 7 stolen bases and made two throwing errors. “I feel for him,” Robinson said, “And I hope fans understand. I just appreciate him hanging in there as long as he did.” What is this, a little league? LeCroy didn’t care as much. “Hey, he’s doing his job, just like I would do if I was in his position. Yet Robinson still cried, in the process becoming the Dick Vermeil of baseball. By the way, has anyone noticed that Jose Vidro is leading the NL in hitting? He had a homer and 4 RBIs on the day.

2. Simply unfair: The Tigers-Royals matchup the past few seasons has been a laughable affair between the worst two teams in baseball. Well, it’s laughable as well this year, but in a different way. The Tigers, already up 3-0 in the series, won 13-8 despite being down 6 runs after the first inning. Tigers starter Mike Maroth, who was 3rd in the AL in ERA coming into the game, had possibly the worst game any starter has pitched this season. He recorded one out, allowed 6 earned runs, 6 hits, and 3 homeruns before getting pulled. And the Royals still couldn’t win the ballgame, as Detroit’s offense rocked their weak pitching staff. Ivan Rodriguez homered and drove in 5, Craig Monroe went 4-4 with 4 runs scored, and Marcus Thames hit two balls out of the park. The win increased the Royals losing streak to an unbelievable 13 in a row, and the team has yet to defeat the Tigers this year in 8 tries.

3. Your typical AL West game: The AL West division is kind of like the PAC-10 of baseball. The games always seem to be a little crazier than games from other divisions. Thursday’s Rangers-A’s matchup was no different, as Texas stormed to an 8-7 victory. Despite being down 7-0 after five innings, the Rangers scored all of their runs in the last four innings to win the ballgame. Mark Teixeira hit a homerun (surprisingly only his fifth of the season), and Phil Nevin hit a game-winning, walk-off shot in the 9th. Texas, at 24-23, commands the division lead.

4. Just who they were looking for: The Boston Red Sox signed Josh Beckett in the offseason to be their ace, and so far it has looked like an excellent decision. Beckett beat the Devil Rays last night to improve to 7-1 on the season, allowing no runs in 6 innings. Before last night, Boston was only 3-3 against the D-Rays this year. But last night’s win preserved their one-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East. By the way, Tampa Bay is still in last place, but they do have more wins than the LA Angels, Minnesota Twins, and Chicago Cubs, among others.

5. A collection of no-names: Usually the batting average leaderboard is filled with current and rising stars. This year, it’s more about the `rising’ stars. The top two hitters of the year have been Alex Rios and Casey Blake. Shea Hillenbrand, another Blue Jay, is fifth. Florida’s Hanley Ramirez, a rookie, is eighth at .335. Brad Hawpe, a previously unknown catcher from the Rockies, is 11th overall. In fact, only about 8 of the top 20 batters are known by the casual fan. What a season.

All Other Sports

Odds and Ends for Tues May 23 2006: You know what the problem with old people is?

Perfect game… whatever. His
turn signal is still on.

They’re making the rest of us look bad. Rex Cooper, an 81 year old, bowled a perfect game at the Simi Valley’s Brunswick Valley Bowl. Why are there so many stories of old guys bowling perfect games and hitting holes in one? It’s probably God’s way of rewarding them for living so long.

In other news…

[NY Post] Speaking of old guys… Larry Brown goes to work.

[Miami Herald]: FSU rescinds basketball scholarship from recruit who was arrested for having cocaine “in the crack of his buttocks”.

[YAY Sports]: Why does Dirk Nowitzki have shaved pits?

[NOLA]: NBA awards New Orleans All-Star Game for 2008

[Jes Gobez]: Edmonton fans drinking up all the beer

[The Baseball Journals]: How the $450 million sale of the Nationals equals $100 million