MLB General

The Full Count: Can the Phillies overcome (being the Phillies)?

1. Wild Card Warriors: The Phillies are playing extremely well and have nearly caught up with the Padres for the wild card lead. After three straight wins, they are only 1.5 games back. They beat the Rockies 6-5 in a comeback victory. Down 5-2 in the seventh after a Matt Holliday homer, the Phillies tied the score off of Pat Burrell’s three-run shot. They won in the 10th inning thanks to Ryan Howard’s RBI double. Howard also hit his 38th homer earlier in the game. The Phillies haven’t gotten any closer to the Mets, who have four straight wins and lead the division by six games. However, they are the hottest team among the wild card contenders, with a 10-5 record their last fifteen games. That gives them a decent shot at making a playoff run.

2. Back to a Draw: The Brewers-Cubs division battle has been back-and-forth recently. After the Brewers took the lead on Sunday, their loss and the Cubs’ win on Monday has tied up the division again. The Cubs routed St. Louis 12-3, giving the Cardinals their fourth loss in a row. Ted Lilly, who is having an excellent season at 15-7 with a 3.85 ERA, picked up the win with a solid start. Chicago’s offense gave him plenty of help, as Aramis Ramirez went 4-5 with two homers and Derrek Lee had three hits and a homer. Meanwhile, the Brewers were crushed 9-0 by the pitiful Pirates. All five Brewers pitchers who appeared allowed a run, while the offense only mustered four hits. This division race, by far the closest in baseball, will be decided by which team can do better against poor opposition. Both teams have a remarkably easy schedule down the stretch.

3. Good News and Bad News: The Tigers had an up-and-down day on Monday. They beat the Blue Jays 5-4 with a four-run rally in the ninth inning. Magglio Ordonez went 4-5 and had the game-winning hit, and Curtis Granderson had two RBIs. On the other hand, they lost Jeremy Bonderman for the season. Bonderman, who had lost 7 of his last 8 decisions, has an elbow injury. It won’t require surgery, but it is severe enough to shut him down the rest of the year. The injury gives a reason for Bonderman’s struggles, as he had an 8.23 ERA his last ten starts after going 10-1 with a 3.53 ERA previously.

Player of the Day: Scott Kazmir, Devil Rays: 7 innings, 5 hits, no runs, 10 strikeouts in a 1-0 win over Boston.

MLB General

The Full Count: It’s only the Devil Rays but damn

1. Return of the Bronx Bombers: The Yankees’ offense had been above-average this season, but far from dominant. Then, with 45 runs over the past two days, their lineup is finally the dominant force many expected it to be at the start of the season. After sweeping a doubleheader with scores of 7-3 and 17-5 on Saturday, the Yankees annihilated the Devil Rays 21-4 on Sunday. Alex Rodriguez led the charge with his 34th homer and 99th RBI. Hideki Matsui went 5-6, Robinson Cano went 4-6, and rookie Shelly Duncan hit two of New York’s six homers in the rout. Tampa Bay starter James Shields was pounded for ten runs as his ERA rose above 4 for the first time since April. The Yankees are now catching up to the Tigers for the major league runs lead; they’re only three behind after that incredible two-day span. They have a season-high winning percentage but remain 7.5 games back of Boston.

2. A Day of Shutouts: Excluding the Yankees game, Sunday was actually a day of low scoring. There were six shutouts overall throughout the major leagues, which including many dominant pitching performances. Roy Halladay hurled a three-hit shutout in the Blue Jays’ 8-0 win. Rookie of the Year candidate Jeremy Guthrie of the Orioles pitched seven scoreless innings in Baltimore’s 2-0 win over the A’s. Philadelphia crushed San Diego 9-0 thanks to JD Durbin’s career-first complete game. Houston won a 1-0 showdown with Pittsburgh thanks to one of Woody Williams’ best starts of the season. Finally, Arizona blanked Chicago and Washington shut down Colorado.

3. Royal Embarrassment: The White Sox were viewed as a preseason contender in the AL Central division. I even thought they would take second place. However, after a season that has gone wrong in so many ways for Chicago, they find themselves tied with the Royals for last place. At 43-54, only Texas and Tampa have worse records in the American League. The White Sox have a lowly offense which is tied for last in the AL in runs and dead-last in batting average and on-base percentage. It’s not like their pitching has been magnificent either, with a 4.76 team ERA. Chicago lost a series at Boston 3-1 by a combined score of 31-14. Their upcoming series include matchups with the Tigers and Yankees, so it could get worse for the White Sox.

Player of the Day: Roy Halladay, Blue Jays: 9 innings, 3 hits, no runs, one walk in an 8-0 win over Seattle. In what has been an off season for the perennial All Star, Halladay improved to 11-4 but still has a 4.15 ERA.

MLB General

The Full Count: A night of nice round numbers

1. Milestone Number 1: After the 2004 and 2005 seasons, in which he only played 108 combined games, it seemed like Frank Thomas would never stay healthy enough to reach 500 homers. But after a 39 homer season last year, and 13 more blasts this season, Thomas has joined the legendary 500 homer club. He is its 21st member, though he will be joined soon by Alex Rodriguez, who needs eight more. Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Gary Sheffield are not far off as well. Many people think the 500 homer mark is diminished because of the large amount of members joining in recent years and steroid suspicions of these players. However, Thomas is one of those players that has always seemed clean, and the large majority of his homers were hit before the steroid era. This achievement just puts Thomas over the edge when it comes to making the Hall of Fame. Now, he’s likely a first-ballot type candidate. Oh by the way, Thomas’ Blue Jays lost to the Twins, 8-5.

2. Milestone Number 2: Amazingly, only hours after Thomas’ 500th homer, Craig Biggio reached the 3000-hit mark. He is the 27th player to reach that mark, though it is arguably more special than 500 homeruns the longevity and consistency it takes to reach. Biggio’s hit was his third of five hits on Wednesday in Houston’s extra-inning win over Colorado. It’s unfortunate that Biggio’s biggest career achievement comes in what is likely his worst season. Even after going 5-6, he still is hitting just .250 on the year with an awful .293 on-base percentage. This is Biggio’s 20th season, and it will probably become his 19th straight with more than 100 hits. He has also had all 3,002 of his hits with the Astros, making him the ninth player in history with 3,000 hits with one team. Whether he makes the Hall of Fame or not, Biggio’s career has been quite distinguished, especially for a second baseman.

3. Rogers Rules: A loaded team like Detroit doesn’t need any extra help, but that’s exactly what they’ve received thanks to the return of Kenny Rogers. After six shutout innings against the Braves in his season debut, Rogers improved to 2-0 with one run allowed in six more innings against the Rangers. The run allowed did bring an end to his under-publicized scoreless innings streak, however. Last year Rogers didn’t allow a run in 23 postseason innings, and he started this year with 11 straight shutout innings. With a 5-2 victory, the Tigers managed to avoid a sweep at the hands of the last-place Rangers. Gary Sheffield hit his 18th homer of the year as well for Detroit.

Player of the Day: Chase Utley, Phillies: 3-5, 2 HRs (15), 4 RBIs in an 8-7 win over the Reds.

Toronto Blue Jays

War with Canada narrowly avoided

We almost had a political disaster on our hands Saturday night when the Toronto Blue Jays played the LA Dodgers. A Canadian fan was harassed by a Dodger Stadium security guard for waving a Canadian flag. The offending fan was Lee Fraser who is the president of Canadians Abroad, a bunch of expats who attend games together when teams from Canada visit.

The Dodgers have a policy prohibiting signs and banners and that includes any flags, even the U.S. flag. Security officials warned Fraser that he could hold it up during the Canadian national anthem but not to wave it during the game. When he did start waving it during the sixth inning, a security guard tried to confiscate it and that lead to a 100-person brawl heated discussion between security, LAPD, and 100 or so Canadians. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and nobody was seriously injured, although there was a report of an “inadvertent shove.”

Even though Fraser had the last word (“The whole crew went crazy. They sent down three or four security guards, the LAPD. Because, you know, Canadians are such a big threat.”), we have to side with the security guards in this case. They were just following rules. If the Canadians can wave a flag, next thing you know, those crazy rabid fans from SF will be waving a Giants flag and then we’ll end up with 51 states.

[The Star]: Canadian fan hassled for doing wave with flag

MLB General

The Full Count: Halladay is dominating again

1. Return to Dominance: Roy Halladay hadn’t pitched since May 10, and he hadn’t pitched like himself since April 30. It didn’t take him long to return to his usual form. Halladay shut out the White Sox in seven innings, allowing six hits and no walks. He struck out seven on the last day of a horrible May for Halladay. In April, he was one of the early Cy Young favorites in the AL. But in May, he allowed 17 combined runs in his first two starts and then underwent an appendectomy that cost him three weeks. Mark Buehrle of the White Sox pitched eight strong innings himself, but he gave up two solo homers to Frank Thomas and Aaron Hill.

2. Still Rollin’: Everything about the Mets, from their starters to their lineup, is clicking right now. On Thursday, Orlando Hernandez delivered a great start in what has been a surprising season for him. El Duque allowed two runs in seven innings, lowering his ERA to 2.20. He is one of three Mets starters with an ERA below 2.80, which is quite unexpected for a staff that came into the year with numerous question marks. Billy Wagner converted his 31st straight save, his 13th on the year. Wagner is one of the more underrated closers in the majors with a 1.57 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. He has been unhittable for the last decade. Though Carlos Beltran struggled in May on offense, David Wright and Carlos Delgado broke out of their April slumps and Jose Reyes continued to be a steal machine (29 and counting). Right now, the Mets are clearly the favorite in the National League, which lacks another truly dominant team at this point.

3. Remember this guy?: Ever since breaking the single-season hits record in 2004, Ichiro has been virtually silent. This year he has returned to being a great contact hitter, with a .336 average and a 230-hit pace. He finished May with a 24-game hit streak that raised his average 76 points. He hasn’t slowed down, either, with 14 steals on the year. On Thursday, Ichiro carried the Mariners by going 3-5 with two RBIs. If he keeps hitting like he is now, Ichiro will definitely start to gain back the attention he lost after two below-average seasons for him.

Player of the Month: Prince Fielder, Brewers: Milwaukee may have slowed down towards the end of the month, but its best player continued to dominate. Fielder had four straight games with a homer to close the month. He led all major-leaguers with 13 homers in May and was tied for first with 28 RBIs. His slugging percentage was .755, which raised his season total to a league-leading .641. Fielder’s breakout is reminiscent of Ryan Howard‘s last year, when Howard hit 13 and 35 in May.

Pitcher of the Month: Jake Peavy, Padres: Many pitchers slowed down in May after dominating in April, but Peavy was not one of them. He went 4-0 with a miniscule 0.79 ERA and 39 strikeouts on the month. Peavy allowed no earned runs in three of his five starts, and the Padres won every time he took the mound in May. He is clearly the National League’s Cy Young favorite at this point in the year.

MLB General

The Full Count: How to waste $8.3M a year

1. The Offseason’s Worst Signing: It always fasinates me that teams choose to sign a pitcher they know is bad instead of bringing one up from the minors and saving $10 million. For example, the Mariners paid Jeff Weaver $8.3 million a year this offseason even though they knew he couldn’t pitch in the AL. Didn’t they know how bad he was, considering he had a 6.29 ERA and 3-10 record last year when he player for division foe Los Angeles? Well, this year, Weaver has been the single worst pitcher in baseball easily. After another shelling Thursday against the Tigers, his ERA stands at 14.32, his WHIP is 2.59, and opponents are batting .459 against him. Add that to an 0-6 record, and you have the single worst signing this offseason by any team. In games that Weaver does not pitch, the Mariners are 15-9, a winning percentage that would be good enough for the division lead. Weaver gave up 6 runs in 5 innings against the Tigers, which actually lowered his ERA. Justin Verlander got the win for Detroit, who is 9-1 their last 10 and took over the division lead.

2. One year makes a difference: In 2006, Toronto finished ahead of Boston for second in the AL East. This year, they aren’t even in the same league as the Red Sox; Boston swept them in a three game series and leads them by more than 10 games. The Blue Jays have now lost 9 in a row, and have a worse record than the Devil Rays. Even their ace is struggling. Roy Halladay came off a 12-hit, 9-run start last week and allowed 7 runs to the Red Sox. Meanwhile, Tim Wakefield continues to be one of the more underrated players in baseball, as he improved to 4-3 with a 1.79 ERA. In his last two starts, Wakefield has allowed zero runs in 14 innings. Boston now has a seven-game lead over the Yankees, while the Blue Jays’ playoff hopes are pretty much already over.

3. If you think the Blue Jays are bad…: The Kansas City Royals might never be a good team again. They have failed to make the playoffs since their World Series title in 1985. KC has finished in last for three straight years, and it’s a guarantee that this year will be their fourth in a row. They were walloped 17-3 by the Oakland A’s, a usually light-hitting team. The A’s hit six homers, including two each by Dan Johnson and Jack Crust. The Royals had three different pitchers allow more than four runs as they fell to 11-24. The A’s are just one game back from the Angels for first place.

Player of the Day: Dan Johnson, A’s: 4-4, 4 runs, 4 RBIs, 2 HRs in a 17-3 win over Kansas City.

Stat of the Day: 47…That’s the number of homeruns the Reds have this season, the most in the majors. Would anyone have guessed that at this point in the season, the five most powerful teams would be Cincy, Milwaukee, Florida, Texas, and Tampa? The Reds are led by Adam Dunn with 11 homers, Josh Hamilton at 8, Alex Gonzalez at 7, and notably Ken Griffey Jr. with 6. Griffey has 569 career jacks and is tied for ninth on the all-time list.

MLB General

The Full Count: Yankees get much needed sweep

1. Double Trouble: After going 1-8 in a one-and-half week stretch and falling to the bottom of the division, the Yankees cranked out a much-needed sweep of the Texas Rangers. On Thursday, they won both games of a doubleheader, based on the strength of their pitching, believe it or not. In game 1, Andy Pettitte pitched six strong innings and the bullpen held him up in a 4-3 win. In the second contest, Mike Mussina came off the DL with an excellent 5-inning, one-run effort. After a period in which it looked like the Yankees’ pitchers couldn’t stop a Double A offense, now they’re at full strength again with the return of Mussina and Chien Ming-Wang. More good news for them is that they play the Rangers again next week.

2. Cleveland Comeback: The best team in the league is currently the Cleveland Indians, and lately they’ve refused to lose. The Indians have a 10-1 record in their past 11 games, and on Thursday they completed a sweep of the Blue Jays. Toronto had captured a four-run lead early as Troy Glaus hit his fifth homer, but Cleveland stormed back thanks to Victor Martinez and others. Martinez went 4-4 with two RBIs, and Grady Sizemore hit a game-winning double for a 6-5 victory. The Indians still only have a 2 game lead, because Detroit has been hot lately as well.

3. Criticize him now: The most widely panned signing of the offseason was the $10 million-a-year contract the Royals gave to Gil Meche. But so far this year, he’s been worth it. Meche is 3-1 on the league’s worst team, and has an excellent 2.23 ERA. His pitching was good enough to lead the Royals past the first-place Angels as they became the last team in the AL to reach the 10-win mark. Meche pitched 7 innings and allowed just 2 runs, which came on a first-inning homer to the untouchable Vladimir Guerrero. The Royals’ 5-2 victory gave them a 2-2 tie in the four-game series. Meche now ranks first in the AL in innings pitched and third in ERA.

Player of the Day: Manny Ramirez, Red Sox: 2-5, 2 HR (5) including the game-winner, 3 RBIs in an 8-7 win over Seattle.

Stat of the Day: Since his first start of the season, Daisuke Matsuzaka has allowed 22 runs in 31 innings, good for a 6.38 ERA. He got torched for 7 runs against the Mariners on Thursday.

MLB General

The Full Count: Fun with April Numbers

1. Random Projections: April is now over and some ridiculous stats are in the books. If everything went just like it did in April:

– Alex Rodriguez would hit 99 homers and 239 RBIs.
– Josh Beckett would go 31-0.
– Francisco Cordero and Jose Valverde would each have 65 saves.
– Matt Holliday would have 262 hits.
– Jose Reyes would steal 115 bases.
– Kelly Johnson would have more walks than Barry Bonds.
– Bonds would hit 58 homers in only 429 at-bats.
– Vicente Padilla would go 0-24.

2. Complete Dominance: Only three starts after a 10-inning complete game, Roy Halladay was back in domination mode against the Rangers. He threw a complete-game, allowed just one run, and struck out 8. The Blue Jays gave Halladay plenty of support for the win, and now he’s 4-0. If there’s anything this Cy Young candidate has to be concerned about, it’s lasting through the season: he’s thrown 100 or more pitches in five of his six starts. After the 6-1 win, the Jays are 13-12 and in second place in the AL East.

3. Another Webb Gem: Defending Cy Young winner Brandon Webb was shaky his first three starts, but now he’s settled down into his usual dominant self. His last three outings have all been quality starts, including a 7-inning, one-run effort on Monday. Webb, backed by the Diamondbacks’ offense, helped the team move into first place as they beat the Dodgers. The 9-1 rout featured hits from nine players and RBIs from seven. Chris Young hit two homers as Dodgers starter Randy Wolf had another tough outing.

4. Not slowing down: The Brewers haven’t showed any signs of decline after taking the NL Central division lead earlier this year. On Monday, they crushed the three-time defending division champion St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals were playing in their first game after pitcher Josh Hancock’s death. But usually tragic events like that make a team stronger, and that certainly wasn’t the case against the Brewers. Milwaukee won 7-1, thanks to a complete-game by Jeff Suppan, who has won four starts in a row. On offense Prince Fielder hit his 6th long ball of the year as they tagged Cards starter Kip Wells for seven runs. The 16-9 Brewers are now tied with the Braves for the best record in the National League.

Player of the Day: Roy Halladay, Blue Jays: 9 innings, one run, no walks, 8 strikeouts in a 6-1 win over Texas.

MLB General

The Full Count: Dice-K can’t catch a break

1. Bad Roll of the Dice: Daisuke Matsuzaka is perhaps the unluckiest pitcher in baseball this season. He has lost two starts in a row despite pitching a quality start in both games. Dice-K was simply outpitched by Felix Hernandez a week ago and Gustavo Chacin on Tuesday. Chacin improved to 2-0 for the Blue Jays after allowing one run into the seventh inning. Matsuzaka, meanwhile, allowed three runs and struck out 10 but didn’t get any support from the offense. With the win the Blue Jays passed the Sox for first place in the AL East, and there are still two games left in this series.

2. Powerhouses: Everyone knows Alex Rodriguez is great. He is having an April like Albert Pujols did last year, as he leads the majors in homers (8) and RBIs (21). Last night A-Rod was part of a Yankees offensive rampage that led to eight runs in the firs two innings and a 10-3 rout of the Indians. While it shouldn’t surprise too many people that Rodriguez is having this type of season, what is surprising is the second-most-powerful player in baseball–Ian Kinsler of the Rangers. Kinsler, a fantasy breakout pick by many this year, has provided a monstrous 7 homers and 13 RBIs, including 1 and 3 in the Rangers’ 8-1 romp over the White Sox. Also in that game, Sammy Sosa hit his third homer of the year, a three-run blast that gave him 10 RBIs. While nobody should expect Sammy to hit above .250, he could have a 30-homer season if healthy.

3. Beasts of the East: The Braves and Mets have been exchanging wins recently as they crush their divisional competition. The Braves beat the Nationals on Tuesday, led by Chipper Jones’ 4th homerun and four hits by leadoff man Kelly Johnson. The Mets, meanwhile, manhandled the Phillies 8-1. Moises Alou of all people had 2 homers and 3 RBIs for New York. The Braves and Mets are a half-game separated in the divisional race, with their next series against each other this weekend.

Player of the Day: Carlos Lee, Astros: 3-4, HR (5), 4 RBIs (16), and 2 runs in a 6-1 win over Florida. If there had been a Full Count on Saturday, Lee would have won this as well with a 3-homer, 6-RBI performance.

Walk Off: The Detroit Tigers are showing this year that their 2006 run was no fluke. They are 9-5 and are standing out in the crowded AL Central race. While their strength of schedule hasn’t been too impressive–they’ve played the Blue Jays twice, Orioles, and Royals twice–they are beating the teams they should beat while going 3-3 against the potent Blue Jays. The Tigers have crushed Kansas City a combined 19-11 the past two nights, showing that they have more ways to win than a pitchers duel. And the top half of their rotation–Verlander, Robertson, and Bonderman–have been fantastic. Detroit was my preseason pick to win the division, and they haven’t showed anything that would make me change my mind.

MLB General

The Full Count: Not so fast on the Cy Young Award

1. Can’t beat the King: Dice-K Matsuzaka got all the attention in his Fenway debut start against the Mariners, particularly for the matchup with Ichiro. However, he got overshadowed by the other starting pitcher, ace Felix Hernandez. Through 7 innings, Matsuzaka had allowed 8 hits and 3 runs, while King Felix had a no-hitter going. While the no-no bid was broken up by JD Drew in the eighth, Hernandez still finished with a complete-game shutout and allowed just one hit. Hernandez’s first two starts have been as good as humanly possible: he’s 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA, .47 WHIP, and .075 opponent’s average. As for Dice-K, at least he won the matchup with Ichiro (0-3).

2. Back down to earth: The Mets’ makeshift starting pitching had been quite effective this season. Until last night, that is. Oliver Perez, who had a great first start of the season, couldn’t make it out of the third inning against the Phillies. He allowed 3 runs and issued 7 walks. He threw more balls than strikes, and issued the majority of 11 walks by the Mets’ pitching. The Phillies scored three runs off bases-loaded walks and got some good pitching from Adam Eaton in a 5-2 win. The victory was just the second of the season for the Phillies, while the Mets lost another game to the division-leading Braves.

3. State of the Central: Before the season, it seemed as though the AL Central would be the MLB’s toughest division, with four playoff-caliber teams. Right now none of those teams have separated themselves, but they’ve all looked pretty good. The Tigers are 5-3 and are once again relying on their pitching. Justin Verlander and Nate Robertson have combined allowed only 3 runs this season in four starts. They are tied with the division lead with the Twins, who swept the Orioles to open the season but have gone 2-3 since then. The White Sox, a team likely to confound all year, sit at 4-4 after a series win over the A’s. The 3-2 Indians are also in the mix, but they’ve been snowed out so much that it’s hard to tell what they have.

Player of the Day: Felix Hernandez, Mariners: 9 IP, 0 runs, 1 hit, 6 K’s in a 3-0 win

Walk Off: Toronto leads the AL East right now by a game, and they’re actually a pretty solid team. However, their last two series have been against Tampa Bay and Kansas City, the two worst teams in the AL. Now they begin a stretch against Detroit and Boston, which should tell us more about this team. MY prediction right now for the AL East is the Red Sox will win it, the Yanks in second, and the Jays back to third.