Articles By Charlie Miller
As we celebrate 12/12/12 today, the number 12 has been associated with many aspects of our everyday lives — and in sports. We enjoyed “The Dirty Dozen.” We buy eggs by the dozen. We’re familiar with “Cheaper By the Dozen,” and we have a song about “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
But today we recognize the 12 Best Athletes to have worn the No. 12.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
The New England quarterback entered the league as a sixth-round draft pick in 2000 and saw action in just one game his rookie season. He took over the starting job after Drew Bledsoe was injured in Week 2 of 2001 and led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title. He will leave the game as arguably the best ever at his position.
2. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers
The No. 1 overall draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1970 didn’t wow with stats, but his teams won — and won big. He led the Steelers to four Super Bowl wins in the 1970s, earning league MVP honors in 1978 and was the Super Bowl MVP twice.
3. John Stockton, Utah Jazz
It’s rare to hear the name Stockton without “and Malone” following, as Stockton and Karl Malone formed one of the greatest tandems in NBA history. The crafty point led the Utah Jazz to 19 consecutive playoff appearances. Stockton started 1,300 games for the Jazz and led the NBA in assists for nine straight seasons, a span that included a time when Magic Johnson was at the top of his game with the Showtime Lakers.
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The 2011 NFL MVP as well as the Super Bowl MVP after that season is quickly moving up the list of the greatest signal-callers in NFL history.
5. Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys drafted the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner in the 10th round in 1964, but due to his commitments to the Navy, Staubach didn’t appear in a Dallas uniform until 1969 at the age of 27. He led the Cowboys to four Super Bowls, winning two, one as MVP.
6. Dickie Moore, Montreal Canadiens
The Hall of Famer led the NHL in goals once and assists once. But he was an impact player with the Habs on six championship teams, including five consecutive Stanley Cups from 1956-60.
7. Yvan Cournoyer, Montreal Canadiens
Cournoyer took over from Moore and continued the legacy of No. 12 in Montreal. The Hall of Famer was part of eight championships with the Canadiens.
8. Jim Kelly, Buffalo Bills
Kelly started 160 games for the Buffalo Bills over an 11-year career in which he led the Bills to the playoffs eight times, including four consecutive Super Bowls.
9. Joe Namath, New York Jets
Broadway Joe learned the game from Bear Bryant at Alabama, and sports fans learned of the AFL from Joe Willie Namath. His brash Super Bowl prediction prior to Super Bowl III remains one of the signature moments in NFL history.
10. Bobby Allison, NASCAR
The racing legend drove car No. 12 to Victory Lane 25 times.
11. Roberto Alomar, Toronto Blue Jays/Cleveland Indians (primarily)
The Hall of Fame second baseman was a 12-time All-Star, won 10 Gold Gloves and finished in the top six in MVP voting five times.
12. Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls
The man who made the No. 23 famous wore No. 12 for one game in 1990. On Valentine’s night at Orlando, Jersey donned No. 12 after his jersey had been stolen prior to the game. He put up 49 on the Magic in 47 minutes, but the Bulls lost 135-129.
A Dozen More
Dick Barnett, NBA
Wade Boggs, MLB (Yankees and Rays)
John Brodie, NFL
Lauren Cheney, USA Soccer
Bob Griese, NFL
Thierry Henry, France Soccer
Dwight Howard, NBA
Andrew Luck, NFL
Ryan Newman, NASCAR
A.J. Pierzynski, MLB
Alfonso Soriano, MLB
Ken Stabler, NFL
It’s never too early to start thinking about 2013. At least now that the World Series is over. I mean, what else is there to think about? Pitchers and catchers report in a little more than 100 days. Certainly, key trades and free agent signings will tweak these predictions as we get deeper into the offseason. But for now, here’s an early, early look at how the standings might appear next October.
1. Tampa Bay Rays
No one in the division will be able to match the Rays’ pitching, and expect Joe Maddon to find an offensive force from an unexpected source.
2. New York Yankees
The decline of the pinstripes is happening before our eyes, but the roster still includes some of the best players on the planet.
3. Baltimore Orioles
After everything, I mean everything, went right for Buck Showalter’s troops in 2012, it’s back down to earth in Baltimore, especially for the pitching staff.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
Will losing manager John Farrell retard this team’s progress?
5. Boston Red Sox
This club has the resources to fix problems quickly with smart decisions.
1. Detroit Tigers
It’s easy to see how Detroit can improve on its 88 wins this season.
2. Cleveland Indians
Somehow Terry Francona will keep this team focused and in the race.
3. Kansas City Royals
How many years now have we been hearing about all the prized prospects the Royals have collected?
4. Chicago White Sox
We were oh so wrong about this team this past summer. Can they surprise us again?
5. Minnesota Twins
Not enough pitching. Not enough hitting.
1. Los Angels Angels
Don’t expect this club to suffer through another horrendous start.
2. Texas Rangers
The championship window is far from closed, even without Josh Hamilton.
3. Oakland A’s
Can the Green and Gold win 94 games and the division again? We don’t think so.
4. Seattle Mariners
No more last-place finishes for a while.
5. Houston Astros
This rebuilding road is long and winding.
1. Atlanta Braves
The Braves will have the best pitching in the East this season, not the Nats.
2. Washington Nationals
The Nats look more like a solid wild card team, but just a little magic can make them a division champion again.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
With aging stars, injuries are expected, which will keep this team from winning the division.
4. Miami Marlins
This team is talented enough that a strong manager could have the Fish competing for the wild card.
5. New York Mets
Will another championship opportunity come along during David Wright’s prime?
1. St. Louis Cardinals
A potent lineup and some young power arms will keep the team in contention.
2. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brew Crew finished the season with a strong second half.
3. Cincinnati Reds
The lineup just isn’t deep enough to stay on top.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
In a close division, there may not be much separating first from fourth.
5. Chicago Cubs
Better, but not very good.
1. San Francisco Giants
Pitching, defense, and don’t be surprised to see the Giants make a free agency splash.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
Given this much talent together in spring training, Don Mattingly could become this generation’s Joe Torre.
3. San Diego Padres
The youngsters are developing and the fences are moving in.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
Will Justin Upton be in a D-Backs’ uniform in Spring Training?
5. Colorado Rockies
It seems like the Rox are starting over every few years, especially with their pitching staff.
The San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers—both of these franchises have been in business for more than 100 years, but the two tradition-laden clubs have never met in the World Series. Detroit has won 11 American League pennants, winning the World Series four times. The Tigers last won the Series in 1984 and lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. Since 1900, the Giants have 19 pennants, appearing the World Series 18 times, winning six, the most recent coming just two years ago when they defeated the Texas Rangers in 2010.
This matchup features two of the best pitching staffs in baseball, especially when it comes to starting pitching. The two ballparks play well for pitchers as does cooler weather. So don’t expect any shootouts in this series.
Having said that, the two players expected to take their respective Most Valuable Player awards — Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey — lead their offenses, but pitching will rule the day.
In 2006, the Tigers swept the ALCS and then had a six-day layoff, which could have played a role in the Detroit offense coming out flat against St. Louis. Manager Jim Leyland tried to keep his troops sharp and their timing down by playing a couple of intrasquad games on Sunday and Monday. If the Detroit hitters come out slow this fall, at least the Tigers’ pitchers are well-rested. Ace Justin Verlander is set to pitch Game 1 followed by Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer.
San Francisco has no time to rest having finished off three pressure-packed games. That could work in the Giants’ favor in terms of keeping the hitters locked in. But the starting pitching doesn’t line up exactly how Bruce Bochy would like. Having to use Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain in Games 3 and 4 is not optimal, but Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum should be up to the task. Having Cain available for just one game is not what the Giants had in mind.
The Detroit bullpen has struggled of late, and the Tigers’ defense could let the pitchers down. San Francisco loves close, low-scoring games, and these games should play out just like Giants manager Bochy relishes.
Prediction: San Francisco in 7
There are 16 players on the Tigers and Giants World Series rosters who have played for winning teams in a previous World Series. Can you name the only player in this year’s Classic to have played for two World Series champs? (Answer below)
San Francisco Giants
During the regular season, the Giants relied on Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey to carry the offense. However, in the postseason it’s been table-setters Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro who have established the tone. The Cardinals held Posey and fifth-place hitter Hunter Pence in check, but the damage was done at the top. Lest you think that Scutaro has been some kind of postseason wonder, think again. After the Giants acquired him in July, he hit .362 in 61 games, sparking the most potent offense in the league during the second half. Brandon Belt, Gregor Blanco and Brandon Crawford were solid at the bottom of the order in the NLCS.
The Giants’ rotation matches up well with any team in baseball. It starts with Matt Cain — a strong Cy Young candidate — and Ryan Vogelsong. Cain pitched the Giants into the World Series with 5.2 scoreless innings in Game 7 of the NLCS. Vogelsong allowed fewer than one baserunner per inning in his three starts with a 1.42 ERA. Former Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito earned starts after struggling at times during the season.
Even though the Giants lost eccentric and effective closer Brian Wilson to injury very early in the season, San Francisco has a collection of relievers that manager Bruce Bochy mixes and matches to gain advantages. Sergio Romo gets most of the save opportunities, but Santiago Casilla is called on to get tough outs from the right side. Detroit first baseman Prince Fielder will see lots of lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. The four combined for 12.2 scoreless innings against St. Louis.
The Giants have Gold Glove caliber defense all over the field. Crawford and Scutaro are smooth up the middle, while Posey behind the plate and Belt at first base are stellar. These guys will not beat themselves and will take pressure off the pitching staff. Third baseman Sandoval is the only sub-par defender on the field.
Path to the World Series
The Giants added Scutaro just prior to the trade deadline. Their NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers added Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and the injured Carl Crawford. After that point, the Giants led the NL in scoring while the Dodgers finished at the bottom of the league. Once in the playoffs, San Francisco seemed to thrive with their backs to the wall. Facing elimination three times against the Reds in Cincinnati, then three more times against St. Louis, the Giants were 6-0 in those games.
The Prince Fielder-Miguel Cabrera duo provides the Tigers a 1-2 punch among the best in baseball. While Cabrera, who at least one hit in all LCS games he appeared in his career, became the first triple crown winner since 1967, this lineup is much deeper than the two sluggers in the middle. Leadoff hitter Austin Jackson leads the club with five extra-base hits in the postseason. Jhonny Peralta is batting .343 in the playoffs, and ALCS MVP Delmon Young drove in as many runs as the entire Yankees team in the series.
Justin Verlander is pitching as well right now as anytime in his career, including a 132-pitch gem in Game 3 of the ALCS. The ace has won all three of his postseason starts this year. Combined, the four starters — Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister — have a 1.02 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 62 innings against the A’s and Yankees.
Closer Jose Valverde, who was perfect in 49 save situations in 2011, has been anything but perfect in the postseason. In only 2.1 innings this postseason, Valverde has given up seven of the 16 earned runs allowed by the Tigers. Phil Coke, who saved Games 2 and 3 of the ALCS, may be called upon to close games in the World Series. Coke was effective as the closer, but that leaves Drew Smyly, who was a starter all season, as the only other lefthander. Octavio Dotel, who was so good last season during the Cardinals’ magical run, will play a pivotal role, especially against the right-handed Buster Posey and Hunter Pence.
Detroit doesn’t make too many errors, but they don’t do the pitching staff any favors by taking away base hits, especially in the infield. The Tigers’ pitchers are much more effective when they are missing bats because too many balls put in play tend to find holes.
Path to the World Series
Detroit won just 88 games — the seventh-best record in the AL — and took over first place in the AL Central from the White Sox with seven days left in the season. Although they were pushed to a fifth game by Oakland in the ALDS, the Tigers made it look pretty easy in the AL playoffs. The Yankees were a pushover in the ALCS. Detroit outscored New York 19-6 as the Tigers’ pitchers held the Yankees to a .157 batting average. Detroit held the A’s to a .194 average in the ALDS.
San Francisco reliever Javier Lopez faced two batters, giving up two hits, for the Boston Red Sox in 2007. He also faced two batters in 2010 for the Giants, retiring both.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Neither the Giants nor the Cardinals made anything look easy in the NLDS. After losing the first two games at home, the Giants handed the Reds three losses in a row in Cincinnati, the only time the Reds dropped three straight at home all season. The Cardinals — stop me if you’ve heard this before — were down to their last strike twice, down two runs at Washington. Now the last two world champions will meet in a rematch of the 1987 and 2002 NLCS. The teams split six regular season games. The Giants outhit the Cardinals .281 to .247 but the Cardinals hit for extra bases and outslugged the Giants .428 to .389. San Francisco outscored St. Louis 30-22, but that included a 15-0 blowout. Bruce Bochy’s troops win with excellent pitching and just enough hitting. St. Louis relies on a potent offense, which at times struggles with inconsistency. They scored 2, 12, 8, 1 and 9 runs against the Nationals in the NLDS.
Keys for San Francisco
The Giants hit just .194 in the Reds’ series, getting outhit in two of their wins. They managed just three hits in their 10-inning win in Game 3. San Francisco cannot win games that turn into shootouts, but they love close, low-scoring games.
Keys for St. Louis
The Cardinals seem to manage the staff through the first six innings pretty well. Whether it’s Chris Carpenter shutting down teams, or relievers Joe Kelly et al picking up the slack when Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright couldn’t get through three innings. And closing out games can be an adventure, but when given run support, the Redbirds’ pitchers don’t throw away too many games. So getting the offense going will be the difference.
Giants to Watch
The offense revolves around Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey. However, center fielder Angel Pagan provided a huge spark in August and September and was instrumental in the wins at Cincinnati from his leadoff positon. The Cardinals will try to negotiate around the big hitters in the middle. If Marco Scutaro can be effective as a table-setter and Hunter Pence proves he can drive in big runs, the Giants will be tough to beat. It will be interesting to see whether Bochy goes with Tim Lincecum or Barry Zito in Game 4. The Giants have won 12 straight when Zito starts, but he struggled in Game 4 and was bailed out by Lincecum, who looked more like the Cy Young Lincecum than the out-of-sorts pitcher we’ve seen all season. Lincecum was certainly more effective than Zito, but is more suited to coming out of the pen, where he has proven to be a weapon.
Cardinals to Watch
Leadoff hitter Jon Jay is 11-for-18 against the scheduled starters for the first three games. With Jay on base in front of Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig, life will be much more difficult for the Giants’ starters. Manager Mike Matheny, who has juggled lineups all season in an effort to keep guys sharp, has stuck with the same batting order in the postseason. But if he needs to change things up, look for Matt Carpenter in the lineup against Matt Cain. He was 4-for-4 this season off the Giants’ ace while David Freese was 0-for-4 with three Ks. However, I don’t see Matheny pulling Freese. Adam Wainwright appears to have hit a wall, not unexpected coming of Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2011. So Lance Lynn must step up and be the No. 3 starter behind Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse. Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal and rookie Shelby Miller could be instrumental out of the bullpen as reliever Mitchell Boggs is showing signs of fatigue.
SAN FRANCISCO IN 6
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
On Sept. 17, the Tigers lost a make-up game to the White Sox that dropped Detroit three games behind Chicago in the American League Central and not even in the wild card discussion. The Tigers finished 11-5 and flipped the standings ending the season with a three-game lead over Chicago. During that time, the Tigers’ starting pitching found a groove. The Yankees, on the other hand, took over first place on June 11 and built a 10-game lead by mid-July before hanging on over Baltimore down the stretch.
The Yankees won six of 10 meetings during the regular season. CC Sabathia struck out 20 in 21.1 innings and allowed 20 hits in his three starts agains the Tigers this season. Sabathia will face Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander in Game 3 and again in Game 7 if the series goes down to the wire. Both pitched complete games in their respective Game 5s in the Division Series.
Keys for Detroit
The Tigers’ offense begins and ends with the two big guys in the middle, triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera, and his protection Prince Fielder. But the Tigers will live and die with starting pitching. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez combined to go 12-4 with a 2.21 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in September. That level of performance continued in the playoffs. Detroit starters held Oakland hitters to a .176 average in their five-game series. They had 41 strikeouts but allowed just 21 hits and 10 walks. Setup man Joaquin Benoit, and especially Jose Valverde, were horrible in the ALDS. That can’t help Jim Leyland’s confidence in his bullpen, which was so good last season. That will put added pressure on the starters to go deeper in games.
Keys for New York
The Yankees must get their bats going. They hit just .211 in the five games with Baltimore. Manager Joe Girardi was able to push all the right buttons, but the lineup can’t rely on clutch swings off the bench to carry the team through a seven-game series. Girardi, who was dealing with the death of his father, was masterful in the Division Series. Whether it was pinch-hitting twice for Alex Rodriguez with the game on the line or benching his aging star for Game 5, Girardi earned his money with tough decisions. But only Derek Jeter (.364) and Mark Teixeira (.353) hit better than .217 off Baltimore pitching. A-Rod wasn’t the only hitter struggling.
Tigers to Watch
Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister will each get two starts if the series goes six games. Fister won his only start against New York this season, but Sanchez was hit hard, lasting just three innings with seven earned runs in his start. First baseman Fielder didn’t have a good series against Oakland stats-wise, but looking a little deeper into his at-bats reveals that he was hitting the ball well. He was robbed of at least four hits with good defensive plays and backed up Oakland outfielders to the track on more than one occasion. If his line drives begin to find holes, he’ll be tough for New York hurlers to deal with.
Yankees to Watch
Lefthander Clay Rapada will have some opportunities to neutralize Fielder. But he could be used to get more than just lefties out. Players on the Tigers roster are 1-13 off Rapada with the only hit by Quintin Berry. Rodriguez and his fragile psyche will certainly grab media attention whether he is in the lineup and no matter where he is in the batting order. But A-Rod isn’t the only Yankee struggling. Second baseman Robinson Cano, who was so good down the stretch, is just 2-for-22.
Detroit in 5
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
For two days, Yankees manager Joe Girardi deflected questions about moving third baseman Alex Rodriguez down in the batting order for last night’s Game 3 of the ALDS vs. Baltimore due to A-Rod’s recent struggles.
Girardi explained his decision to keep A-Rod near the top of the lineup by saying trust was a major piece of the Yankees’ success. He reiterated how important it is for him to trust his players and that his players trust him. And after Wednesday night, his players have multiple reasons to trust their skipper.
Two moves the manager made in the Yankees’ 12-inning comeback win over the Orioles give fans, media, and most importantly, his players plenty of reasons to trust the fifth-year manager.
The most notable move was pinch-hitting for Rodriguez with the game on the line in bottom of the ninth inning as the Yankees trailed, 3-2. Girardi called on 40-year-old Raul Ibanez to pinch-hit for Rodriguez. The two players’ history together goes back to Appleton Foxes of the Midwest League in 1994. Ibanez, a 36th-round draft pick of Seattle out of Miami, spent much of his time in the minors behind the plate. His was a slow climb through the minors to the big leagues. Rodriguez, a No. 1 overall selection by Seattle out of Miami in 1993, was on a fast track to the bigs, making his debut in 1994.
But on October 10, 2012, Girardi had more faith in the lefty Ibanez against the Orioles’ premier closer Jim Johnson. And Ibanez rewarded his manager, not once, but twice. His solo home run in the ninth inning sent the game into extra frames. Ibanez, making just $1.1 million this season with no 2013 contract, came up again leading off the 12th inning off tough young lefthander Brian Matusz. Ibanez sent another pitch into the right field seats for a walk-off winner.
The other decision Girardi made? It may be meaningless, but Derek Jeter was not on the field for the final 12 outs. After fouling a pitch off his foot early in the game, Jeter was noticeably limping after singling in the sixth. Girardi called on Jayson Nix to play shortstop in the ninth inning. Last night, the defensive replacement was most likely due to an ailing Jeter. But the door is open for Girardi to replace the future Hall of Famer on defense late in games. Will a healthy Jeter be replaced later this postseason? Maybe not, but Girardi has earned some trust among all his players should he pull the trigger and pull Jeter late in games.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
What a fascinating season 2012 proved to be. A Triple Crown, a division champion having spent just one day in first place and 19- and 20-year-olds taking the league by storm. As postseason baseball begins, it’s time to reflect on the season by showing off what would be my ballot for various awards. Today, I reveal the 10 players most deserving of Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors in the National League.
10 MVP Candidates for the National League
What a fascinating season 2012 proved to be. A Triple Crown, a division champion having spent just one day in first place and 19- and 20-year-olds taking the league by storm. As postseason baseball begins, it’s time to reflect on the season by showing off what would be my ballot for various awards. Today, I reveal the 10 players most deserving of Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors in the American League.
10 MVP Candidates for the American League
What a fascinating season 2012 proved to be. A Triple Crown, a division champion having spent just one day in first place and 19- and 20-year-olds taking the league by storm. As postseason baseball begins, it’s time to reflect on the season by showing off what would be my ballot for various awards. Today, I reveal the six skippers most deserving of Manager of the Year honors in the American and National League.
What a fascinating season 2012 proved to be. A Triple Crown, a division champion having spent just one day in first place and 19- and 20-year-olds taking the league by storm. As postseason baseball begins, it’s time to reflect on the season by showing off what would be my ballot for various awards. Today, I reveal the six players most deserving of Rookie of the Year honors in the American and National League.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for September 17, 2012.
1. Nationals — Every game remaining is against a team in the race.
2. Reds — Huge offensive slump in September.
3. Rangers — Lost just one series at home in the second half.
4. Braves — Took the fight to the Nats over the weekend.
5. Giants — Will have advantage in most postseason pitching matchups.
6. A’s — Seven games left with division-leading Rangers.
7. Yankees — Bronx Bombers hanging on for dear life.
8. Orioles — Face losing teams for the next 13 games.
9. Angels — Streaky Angels hot once again, but may be too late.
10. Rays — Tampa Bay’s offense doesn’t scare anyone.
11. White Sox — Lost 11 of 16 before sweeping Twins in Minnesota.
12. Cardinals — Chris Carpenter set to pitch on Friday.
13. Dodgers — Couldn’t overtake Redbirds in four-game set.
14. Tigers — Max Scherzer leads AL with eight wins in second half.
15. Brewers — Brew Crew creeping into the wild card discussion.
16. Phillies — Wishing they had Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino back?
17. Pirates — Struggling to finish the season at .500.
18. Padres — Won 19 of their last 25.
19. Diamondbacks — Young pitching staff gaining valuable experience.
20. Mariners — Have 18 chances left to play spoiler.
21. Blue Jays — 11 games remaing with Yankees and Orioles combined.
22. Royals — Youngsters have scored the most runs in AL in September.
23. Mets — Trying to get R.A. Dickey to 20 wins, Cy Young award.
24. Marlins — Jose Reyes leads team in singles, doubles, triples since break.
25. Red Sox — Only team in either league without a shutout since the break.
26. Indians — 5.24 second half ERA is worst in majors.
27. Cubs — Alfonso Soriano earns third 100-RBI season of his career.
28. Twins — Samuel Deduno best pitcher over last two months.
29. Rockies — Rookie Wilin Rosario leads team with 24 homers.
30. Astros — Haven’t lost 100 games — yet.
AL Player of the Week
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit—In his pursuit of the triple crown, Cabrera bashed Chicago and Cleveland pitching last week with a .407 average and 1.243 OPS. He had at least one run and one RBI in six of the seven games, finishing with seven of each. The triple crown is possible, but it will take a power surge from Cabrera. He’s one point ahead of Mike Trout in batting average, tied with Josh Hamilton with 123 RBIs, and trails Hamilton by four home runs with three players in between.
AL Pitcher of the Week
Jarrod Parker, Oakland—The 23-year-old righthander won both starts last week against teams fighting for a playoff spot. He defeated the Angels on the road and the Orioles at home. Parker, drafted No. 9 overall by Arizona in 2007, was acquired from the Diamondbacks in a deal that included Trevor Cahill moving to Arizona. In 14 innings last week, Parker allowed 11 hits, three walks and struck out seven.
NL Player of the Week
Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia—Buster Posey continued his assault on the NL MVP award with another strong week at the plate, but Rollins was even better. Doing what a leadoff hitter should, Rollins reached base at a .471 clip and led the majors with nine runs. He stole five bases without being caught and batted .393. He also hit three homers.
NL Pitcher of the Week
Wily Peralta, Milwaukee—The Brewers have climbed back into the wild card race, ending the week just 2.5 games out. Peralta, who has made just three major league starts, has given a lift to Milwaukee’s rotation. The Brewers won both of his starts last week, defeating the Braves and Mets. Peralta tossed eight shutout innings in the win over New York on Sunday, allowing just two hits and one walk.
According to the greatest baseball research website in the world, Baseball-Reference.com, MLB and its players are approaching the 500,000th recorded error since 1876. Wow, a half-million miscues.
With 499,982 as of today, Sept. 15, some unfortunate dude will make the milestone mess-up most likely on Sunday, Sept. 16 (or the next day).
Here are our Top 10 candidates to make history:
10. Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies
Rosario is developing the reputation as one of the best throwers in the game behind the plate, and he is second in the majors with 69 assists, despite playing in only 82 games. He also leads all catchers in errors with 11.
How it could happen: After Chase Headley beats the throw to the plate on a single by Yasmani Grandal, Rosario steps up to take the throw and tries to get Grandal advancing to second, but his throw sails wide and into center field, which allows the Padres’ catcher to advance to third.
9. Alex Gordon, LF, Royals
Outfielders aren’t charged with errors often, so Gordon isn’t the odds-on favorite. But he’s in love with his arm and seems to enjoy showing it off, which probably has something to do with teammate Jeff Francoeur in right field regularly gunning down runners.
How it could happen: Maicer Izturis of the Angels foolishly attempts to go from first to third on an Albert Pujols single to left center and Gordon throws a pea to third baseman Mike Moustakas. But even the best of throws can hit runners and ricochet awry, leaving the outfielder with the throwing error. Izturis scores as the ball trickles toward the Angels’ dugout.
8. Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
I like Andrus’ defense, but he covers ground, and by definition, shortstops tend to make errors.
How it could happen: In an 8-1 Rangers blowout over Seattle in the Texas heat, Andrus ranges to his left, but can’t corral a grounder by the Mariners’ Trayvon Robinson.
7. Daniel Descalso, SS, Cardinals
With shortstop Rafael Furcal out for the season with an elbow injury, Descalso has become the everyday player at the position. It’s not that he’s sub-par, he’s just not accustomed to playing nine innings at the demanding position every day.
How it could happen: The Dodgers’ Matt Kemp hits a sharp ground ball that handcuffs Descalso with no one on in the sixth inning.
6. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Dodgers
Ramirez topped 20 errors in his first three seasons for the Marlins. He’s steadily improved, and he’s made just two in 32 games at short for the Dodgers this season. But it could happen. Besides, shortstop is demanding and having Vin Scully’s immediate impression is always a bonus.
How it could happen: With runners on first and third, the Cardinals’ David Freese rolls over one and hits a ready-made double-play grounder to short, which should get the Dodgers and Chris Capuano out of the fifth inning with no runs. Ramirez boots it, a run scores and the inning continues.
5. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians
It’s been a long season in Cleveland. It’s tough to maintain concentration this late in a disappointing and frustrating year. If the milestone lasts through the weekend, the Twins will be in Cleveland. And who can concentrate on a Tuesday night during a Twins-Indians game?
How it could happen: Josh Willingham’s harmless grounder eats up Cabrera.
4. Ian Desmond, SS, Nationals
Desmond has the worst fielding percentage of qualifying NL shortstops. And we know he’ll be in the lineup every day since the Nationals are in the pennant race.
How it could happen: Michael Bourn of Atlanta hits a chopper to short that Desmond rushes and throws in the dirt, eluding first baseman Adam LaRoche, allowing Bourn to sprint to second.
3. Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs
Castro is certainly no stranger to errors or mental lapses. And the Cubs will be hosting the Pirates and Reds during this stretch, two teams that love to put pressure on defenses.
How it could happen: After making an error earlier in the game, Castro makes a nice stop in the hole on a Michael McKendry ground ball, but nonchalants the throw and pulls first baseman Anthony Rizzo off the bag.
2. Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pirates
The slugger has found his swing this season and is providing the Bucs with badly needed pop in the lineup. He takes pride in his defense but tries to make plays at times when he shouldn’t, which is why he leads the majors in errors this season.
How it could happen: David DeJesus chops one down the third base line and Alvarez charges hard, bare hands and makes a wide throw to first. Scoring: Infield hit and error.
1. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals
Zimmerman, who owns a Gold Glove and has developed a reputation as a superb fielder, has recently become the latest victim of the throwing yips. He has 10 throwing errors this season.
How it could happen: Chipper Jones hits a routine grounder to third, Zimmerman fields, sets himself, and yip, throws it in the seats. Yep. That’s No. 500,000.
The 1,000-Error Club
They just don’t make errors the way they used to. All four in this illustrious club retired before 1915. Pee Wee Reese, who retired at the end of 1958, was the last player to make more than 400 errors, less than half required for this special club membership.
There are just four players in the 1,000-error club. Herman Long leads the pack with 1,096 errors. Bill Dahlen has 1,080, Deacon White made 1,018 and Germany Smith crept into the club with 1,009.
Herman Long, nicknamed “Germany” and the “Flying Dutchman,” played shortstop primarily for 16 seasons with the Boston Beaneaters. His rookie season in 1889 was spent with the Kansas City Cowboys, for which he made 122 errors in 128 games. He topped 100 boots in two other seasons.
Bad Bill Dahlen was a contemporary of Long’s. He was also a shortstop who was charged with 86 errors with the Chicago Colts in 1895.
Deacon White retired in 1890 after 20 seasons of making errors. In the mid-1870s he put together four miraculous seasons of 51, 56, 60 and 64 errors from his catcher position for the Boston Red Stockings. He finished his career with 444 errors at the hot corner and 399 from behind the plate.
Germany Smith — born in Pittsburgh — was a shortstop who spent 15 seasons in the big leagues before retiring in 1898. He wound up his career with 907 runs and 1,009 errors.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Baseball has been filled with great pitchers who started their careers with average performances and slowly developed over the course of several seasons. But for a select few hurlers, success came quickly. Here's our look at the best first-year pitchers in baseball history.
1. Fernando Valenzuela, Dodgers, 1981
Fernandomania spread quickly in Southern California, as the young Valenzuela from Mexico dominated NL hitters with his devastating screwball. In the strike-shortened season, the lefty completed nine innings in each of his first eight starts, five of them shutouts. For the season, he twirled eight shutouts, easily leading the league on his way to capturing the Cy Young award. His year continued with five strong starts in the postseason, including a win in Game 5 of the NLCS and Game 3 of the World Series.
2. Neftali Feliz, Rangers, 2010
Feliz, who has since been converted to a starter, established a rookie record with 40 saves (since broken by Craig Kimbrel). Of the 16 runners he inherited, only one scored.
3. Hideo Nomo, Dodgers, 1995
The Japanese League veteran was 6-0 in June with a 0.89 ERA and opponents batted .143 that month. On the season, he allowed 207 baserunners (hits, walks and HBP) and whiffed 236.
4. Mark Fidrych, Tigers, 1976
The Bird was the greatest box office draw Detroit had experienced in years. In the 19 starts Fidrych made at Tiger Stadium, the average attendance was 33,479. The Tigers drew an average of 15,108 in the other 55 home dates. He led the AL with 24 complete games, going 10 or more innings five times, two of those on three days’ rest. The colorful character would talk to the baseball and manicure the mound with his hands.
5. Dwight Gooden, Mets, 1984
In his last eight starts, the 19-year-old Gooden was 7-1 with a 1.17 ERA over 69.0 innings. He struck out 95 while allowing only 49 hits plus walks during that span.
6. Craig Kimbrel, Braves, 2011
Manger Fredi Gonzalez wasn’t shy about using his three young relievers, including Kimbrel, who suffered from overuse. On his way to a record-setting 46 saves, he didn’t allow a run from June 14-Sept 8, a span covering 38 appearances and 37.2 innings.
7. Cy Blanton, Pirates, 1935
Blanton led the NL in ERA, WHIP and shutouts. He made nine starts to begin the season without being relieved, and over a six-day period he had two complete games and a save.
8. Vean Gregg, Indians, 1911
The pride of South Dakota State led the American League in ERA and WHIP, finishing 10th in MVP voting.
9. Don Newcombe, Dodgers, 1949
The 23-year-old led the NL with five shutouts, winning Rookie of the Year honors and finishing eighth in MVP balloting. His first start was a five-hit shutout at Cincinnati with no walks and three strikeouts. On Sept. 24 with the Dodgers just a half game behind the Cardinals, Newcombe pitched a complete game four-hitter over the Phillies on two days’ rest.
10. Kaz Sasaki, Mariners, 2000
A 10-year veteran of Japanese baseball, the 32-year-old converted 37 of 40 save opportunities during his first year in the U.S.
11. Roy Oswalt, Astros, 2001
He had a 2.04 ERA in August and September as the Astros won eight of his last 10 starts.
12. Joe Black, Dodgers, 1952
A veteran of the Negro Leagues, Black broke into the majors at age 28. The rubber-armed righthander once racked up three saves and a win over a four-day period, tossing 8.1 shutout innings.
13. Russ Ford, Yankees, 1910
Somehow his 26 wins, 1.65 ERA or 0.881 WHIP didn’t lead the league.
14. Andrew Bailey, A’s, 2009
Bailey had three wins and two holds before he picked up his first save on May 8. He converted his last 21 save opportunities, with five of them more than three outs.
15. Pete Alexander, Phillies, 1911
The 24-year-old from St. Paul, Neb., led the National League in wins, shutouts, innings and hits/9 IP, finishing third in the MVP race.
- Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
The Angels’ Mike Trout continues to chase history as a 21-year-old rookie bidding to become just the third rookie to win AL MVP honors. How does his season stack up against the best rookie seasons by a positional player of all-time?
Here’s our ranking:
1. Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox, 1939
The Splendid Splinter burst onto the scene in Boston leading the American League with 145 RBIs and 344 total bases. His command of the strike zone was immediately evident by his 107 walks.
2. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2001
After a meteoric rise in the minor leagues, the 13th-round draft pick started more than 30 games at four different positions in 2001. On a team that included Mark McGwire and Jim Edmonds, the rookie led the Redbirds in runs, hits, doubles, home runs and RBIs.
3. Dale Alexander, Detroit Tigers, 1929
His career was brief — only five seasons — due to a knee injury, but his rookie season was stellar. The Tigers’ first baseman led the circuit with 215 hits and did not miss a game. He won a batting title in 1932.
4. Fred Lynn, Boston Red Sox, 1975
Some of his numbers pale when compared to other eras, but the 1970s were not kind to hitters. The Gold Glove outfielder is one of only six rookies with 100 runs and RBIs, and he led the AL in runs, doubles, slugging and OPS. He was the first rookie to win an MVP.
5. Richie Allen, Philadelphia Phillies, 1964
Later known as Dick Allen, the enigmatic slugger had some difficulty finding a home later in his career. But during his rookie season, the Phillies’ offense leaned on him as he led the NL in runs and triples. He started every game at third base.
6. Mark McGwire, Oakland A’s, 1987
Before his arms blew up like Popeye’s, McGwire was a feared slugger for Oakland. Part of the Bash Brothers with Jose Canseco, McGwire established a rookie record with 49 home runs, which led the AL that season.
7. Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners, 2001
Ichiro came to America as the owner of seven batting titles in Japan, not exactly inexperienced. But winning a batting title, a stolen base title and earning MVP honors in his first season in the U.S. is impressive.
8. Tony Oliva, Minnesota Twins, 1964
Oliva won a batting title and led the American League in hits, runs and doubles. He joined Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew to form a formidable lineup for the Twins in the 1960s, leading the team to the World Series in 1965, and to two division titles in 1969-70.
9. Joe DiMaggio, New York Yankees, 1936
Joltin’ Joe certainly had a spectacular supporting cast, but DiMaggio began his assault on American League pitching right out of the box. He finished eighth in MVP voting and it marked the only time in his career that he led the league in triples.
10. Carlton Fisk, Boston Red Sox, 1972
Fans most vivid memory of Fisk is the stout catcher waving a home run fair to walkoff Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. But Pudge won a Gold Glove as a rookie and led the AL with nine triples. His OPS+ of 162 that season ranks among the best ever for a first-year player.
11. Johnny Mize, St. Louis Cardinals, 1936
The Hall of Famer had a .400 on-base percentage in each of his first six seasons in the majors. He also never dipped below 30 doubles during that time. He missed three full seasons due to military service during WWII, and wasn’t quite the same player when he returned.
12. Frank Robinson, Cincinnati Reds, 1956
Robinson, who would become the first player to win the MVP award in both leagues, got the attention of National League pitchers quickly in 1956. His OPS of .936 finished second in the NL to Duke Snider, and ahead of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Stan Musial.
13. Nomar Garciaparra, Boston Red Sox, 1997
Nomar led the league in hits and triples during his rookie campaign. He earned a trip to the All-Star Game, finished eighth in MVP balloting and won a Silver Slugger award.
14. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers, 2007
His rookie season was briefer than most since he didn’t make his debut until May 25. But his 34 home runs tied for fifth in the league and his .634 slugging topped the NL.
15. Mike Piazza, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1993
The second of five consecutive Dodgers to win the NL Rookie of the Year, Piazza started 141 games behind the plate. He led the Dodgers in average, runs, homers and RBIs.
Del Bissonette, Brooklyn Dodgers, 1928
Del Ennis, Philadelphia Phillies, 1946
Mitchell Page, Oakland A’s, 1977
Paul Waner, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1926
CHECK OUT BASEBALL'S 15 GREATEST ROOKIE PITCHERS
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for September 10, 2012.
1. Nationals — Pacing majors with 58 runs, 24 homers in Sept.
2. Reds — Leadoff hitters batting just .207, by far worst in majors.
3. Rangers — Lead down to 3.5 games with seven left with Oakland.
4. Braves — Kris Medlen unbeatable for Atlanta.
5. Giants — Starters have 2.02 ERA in 15 games vs. Dodgers.
6. Yankees — Tough stretch leaves Yanks in battle for division title.
7. A’s — Green and Gold just keeps winning; 36-17 in second half.
8. Orioles — Will miss Nick Markakis, who has broken hand.
9. Rays — Pitchers have a 0.99 WHIP since the break.
10. Angels — 10 blown saves in second half have impeded progress.
11. Cardinals — Jaime Garcia may be Redbirds’ new ace.
12. Dodgers — Mark and A.J. Ellis batting .345 in September.
13. White Sox — Good to have center fielder Alejandro de Aza back in lineup.
14. Tigers — Miguel Cabrera has outside shot at triple crown.
15. Pirates — 63-56 when Neil Walker starts, 9-11 when he doesn’t.
16. Diamondbacks — Winning mark vs. West, below .500 vs. East and Central.
17. Phillies — Haven’t been above .500 since June 1, but getting close.
18. Brewers — Ryan Braun making strong case for another MVP.
19. Mariners — Best last-place team in the majors.
20. Padres — Chase Headley has 58 RBIs in last 52 games.
21. Mets — Only NL team with worse record since the break is Houston.
22. Royals — Batting respectable .277 in 26 games vs. White Sox and Tigers.
23. Blue Jays — Just 14-26 against top three team in AL East.
24. Marlins — 15-13 vs. three NL division leaders.
25. Red Sox — Only 14 extra-base hits in eight September games.
26. Twins — Joe Mauer batting .385 with two outs and RISP.
27. Indians — Fewest homers in majors in second half.
28. Rockies — ERA has dropped from 5.26 in first half to 4.77 after break.
29. Cubs — Alfonso Soriano has 58 extra-base hits and 94 RBIs.
30. Astros — Fewest runs scored, most allowed in NL since the break.
AL Player of the Week
B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay—The streaky center fielder has finally given the Rays some pop this season. Last week he had five home runs and batted .400 against division leaders New York and Texas as Tampa Bay battles for the final wild card spot. Upton scored seven times and was successful on all three stolen base attempts.
AL Pitcher of the Week
James Shields, Tampa Bay—With every game for the Rays now essentially a must-win, Shields gave the club two dynamite starts last week in wins over the Yankees and Rangers. In 17 innings, Shields gave up just seven hits, allowed three walks and whiffed 13.
NL Player of the Week
Chase Headley, San Diego—The Padres’ third baseman has taken over the National League lead in RBIs. Last week he began with four consecutive two-hit games as the Padres took two of three from both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. He batted .321 and led the majors with 13 RBIs. He also homered four times.
NL Pitcher of the Week
Kris Medlen, Atlanta—The Braves’ young righthander finally saw his 40.2-inning scoreless streak come to an end, but he defeated the Mets anyway, allowing just two earned runs over six innings. The Braves have won Medlen’s last nine starts. For the week he allowed nine hits, two walks and struck out 15 in 15 innings.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for August 27, 2012.
1. Nationals — Is there some friction among management?
2. Reds — Winning one of three vs. St. Louis was enough.
3. Rangers — Adrian Beltre joining Josh Hamilton in MVP race.
4. Yankees — Powerful lineup has scored just 23 runs in last eight games.
5. Braves — Bullpen much more rested than this time last season.
6. Rays — Best record in the majors this month.
7. Giants — Lead the National League in runs in August.
8. White Sox — Back-to-back home sweep of the Yankees and Mariners.
9. A’s — Allowed just 29 runs in last 10 games, winning eight.
10. Dodgers — Pull off biggest blockbuster trade in several years.
11. Pirates — Beginning to leak oil.
12. Cardinals — Begin the week at Pittsburgh, end it at Washington - not easy.
13. Orioles — Finished the week tied with Oakland for second wild card spot.
14. Tigers — White Sox come to Motown this weekend.
15. Diamondbacks — After hosting Reds for three, will play 25 straight vs. NL West.
16. Angels — Sweep at Fenway was nice, but have lost 15 of 24.
17. Mariners — Won eight in a row, then lost three one-run games at Chicago.
18. Red Sox — Traded injured player, malcontent and huge contracts to L.A.
19. Phillies — Won five of seven last week vs. first-place teams.
20. Padres — Beginning to separate themselves from the bottom teams.
21. Mets — Won back-to-back just three times since the break.
22. Marlins — Scored four runs or less in last 11 losses.
23. Brewers — 23 blown saves lead the majors.
24. Royals — Won eight of nine inside division with Det. and Minn. this week.
25. Blue Jays — Averaging fewer than three runs a game in August.
26. Indians — Lost 23 of their last 28 games — crashing and burning.
27. Twins — Scott Diamond: 10-5, 3.04 ERA; rest of starters: 22-54, 6.15.
28. Rockies — Wins leader Rex Brothers has yet to start a game.
29. Cubs — Opponents reaching base at a .357 clip off the bullpen.
30. Astros — Would they really consider trotting out Roger Clemens? Yes.
AL Player of the Week
Adrian Beltre, Texas—The Rangers are in the business of scoring lots of runs and business has been good. Last week Beltre batted .433 and slugged 1.100. He drove in nine runs and scored seven with nine extra-base hits. He had a three-homer game on Wednesday against Baltimore, then hit for the cycle vs. Minnesota on Friday.
AL Pitcher of the Week
Max Scherzer, Detroit—Scherzer won both of his starts last week, going seven innings and allowing just one earned run in each game. The righthander has now made eight consecutive starts with at least eight strikeouts. The streak covers 52.1 innings and includes 70 whiffs.
NL Player of the Week
Allen Craig, St. Louis—St. Louis continues to battle for one of the wild card spots, and Craig keeps on raking. He hit .440 last week with two homers. His nine RBIs led the NL and his eight runs were second. He had three three-hit games and one three-walk contest.
NL Pitcher of the Week
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis—With the Cardinals precariously holding a spot in the postseason, and with the bullpen a bit sketchy, it’s important that St. Louis starters get deep into games. Wainwright shut out Houston and tossed 5.2 innings in a win against division leader Cincinnati. In 14.2 innings, Wainwright walked one and struck out 14.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for August 20, 2012.
1. Nationals — Opponents are batting .210 with runners in scoring position.
2. Reds — Another weekend, another walk-off win for Cincinnati.
3. Yankees — Won nine of 12 and now visit Chicago and Cleveland.
4. Rangers — David Murphy has been team’s best hitter in second half.
5. Braves — Three sub-20,000 crowds last week during pennant race.
6. Dodgers — Holding opponents to a .185 average with bases loaded.
7. Pirates — 11 homers, 22 doubles in 12 games vs. St. Louis this season.
8. Rays — Matt Moore, David Price in 2nd half: 10-1, 1.53 ERA, 0.96 WHIP.
9. Giants — Can Giants overcome the loss of their offensive catalyst?
10. A’s — Grant Balfour has allowed 1 ER, 1 extra-base hit in July/Aug.
11. White Sox — Just one game above .500 in second half.
12. Orioles — Won 11 of 15 but can’t gain ground in AL East.
13. Cardinals — Only two home series losses since mid-June both to Pirates.
14. Tigers — Haven’t won a series outside their division in more than a month.
15. Diamondbacks — 14-16 when not playing the Astros in second half.
16. Angels — Crashing and burning with a 6.76 ERA in August.
17. Red Sox — 6-12 in August and fading fast.
18. Mariners — King Felix was perfect, but offense still not so hot.
19. Blue Jays — Struggling Jays batting just .217 in August.
20. Phillies — Seven games against best two teams in NL this week.
21. Mets — 11-24 since the break, only Houston is worse in NL.
22. Marlins — August batting avg.: Stanton & Reyes .313, rest of team .247.
23. Royals — Third place sounds nice, but would be last in other AL divisions.
24. Padres — Batting .179 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
25. Brewers — 13 straight games vs. Cubs and Pirates coming up.
26. Indians — Opponents are batting an even .300 this month.
27. Twins — Justin Morneau appears to be back in top form.
28. Rockies — Bats are alive at .310 in August; opponents are hitting .281.
29. Cubs — Swinging away: 142 strikeouts, 134 hits in August.
30. Astros — Managerial change can’t help in 2012.
AL Player of the Week
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit—The Tigers continue to struggle in the AL Central (arguably the worst division in baseball), but Cabrera remains a force and is contending for MVP honors. Miggy had four multi-hit games in a row, batting .476 for the week with a 1.386 OPS and seven runs scored.
AL Pitcher of the Week
Hiroki Kuroda, New York—With apologies to Felix Hernandez and his perfect game last week, Kuroda gets the nod for the award. He was nearly perfect twice. Last Tuesday, he tossed a two-hit shutout against the Rangers and followed that with eight innings allowing just one earned run vs. the rival Red Sox. For the week, he tossed 17 innings and gave up just six hits and two walks.
NL Player of the Week
Jay Bruce, Cincinnati—The Reds have certainly taken up the slack left in the lineup when Joey Votto was disabled due to knee surgery, and Bruce has been a huge part of that. Last week he had at least one hit and scored a run in every game. He batted .429 with three homers, seven extra-base hits and led the majors with nine runs.
NL Pitcher of the Week
Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles—As the Dodgers continue to battle the Giants in the NL West, Billingsley gave the team two tremendous starts last week against two teams in the wild card race. The righthander pitched eight shutout innings at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, then followed that with seven scoreless at Atlanta. He allowed just eight hits and three walks in 15 frames.
Every summer August 1 is something like New Year’s Day in baseball. General managers around the league work frantically through July 31 to reshape their teams into contenders or sell off spare parts in order to rebuild for the future. It marks the beginning of the pennant drive, with a different look to many lineups.
Many teams’ destinies are defined by decisions made at the annual trade deadline. There was no better example than in 2011. Both the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals rebuilt their pitching staffs, most notably their bullpens, at the deadline, and those key moves proved instrumental in both teams’ pennants.
Every trade deadline presents winners and losers. Here are this year's best and worst.
It’s clear that the Astros are going nowhere this season. Painfully clear. However, they are moving to the American League West next season, and the building process is well underway to compete with the likes of the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels over the next five years. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has done a magnificent job stockpiling talented young pitchers. The 10-player deal with Toronto brought Houston two former first-round draft picks with big upsides in Joe Musgrove and Asher Wojciechowski. The Astros also grabbed a couple of corner outfield types from Arizona in Marc Krauss and Bobby Borchering. The two big swingers strike out too often for Arizona GM Kevin Towers’ liking, but their power should play well at Minute Maid Park.
The Tigers are built to win now. The signing of Prince Fielder over the winter and the subsequent move of Miguel Cabrera to third gave the Tigers a powerful lineup but exposed the team defensively. With a gaping hole at second base, the Tigers were able to bring Omar Infante back to Detroit, and with him came starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who has a no-hitter on his resume. That should be enough to win the AL Central.
New York Yankees
These aren’t the Yankees of the free-spending, wheeling and dealing era, but these are shrewd Yankees who know how to build a winner. New York welcomed former Mariner Ichiro Suzuki to New York at very little cost. Casey McGehee should be a productive right-handed bat off the bench and a solid option at third while Alex Rodriguez is recovering from a hand injury. The pieces are in place for the favorite in the American League.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Witness baseball’s next version of the Evil Empire. The Dodgers are determined to win. They are determined to win back the fans in Los Angeles who were lost during the McCourt regime and prevent the Angels from getting all the headlines. Hanley Ramirez had lost his edge in Miami, but a change of scenery should be just what the doctor ordered. Shane Victorino provides Gold Glove defense in the outfield and can be the leadoff hitter the Dodgers have sorely needed in front of Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier this season. The offense, which hit just six home runs in June, has suddenly become a force.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants added Carlos Beltran at this point last season and it wasn't enough to get the team over the hump. In dire need of offense, the team was without Buster Posey in 2011, so the hole was much deeper. Now with Posey in the lineup and Pablo Sandoval expected back soon, adding Hunter Pence is a huge boost for the Giants as they battle the Dodgers and for one of the wild card spots. In his career, Pence has a career .329 average at AT&T Park, not a friendly place for most hitters.
Chicago White Sox
The surprise team in the AL, the White Sox see the opportunity in the AL Central, and the addition of the second wild card certainly made the decision to go for it this season easier. Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano bring depth to a young pitching staff. Myers, especially, should be a welcome presence to a staff that has had as many as seven rookies at one time this season.
It’s not so much what the Pirates did that makes them winners, it’s just that they did more than their NL Central rivals St. Louis and Cincinnati. Wandy Rodriguez can be a huge lift to an already promising rotation. Gaby Sanchez, an All-Star in 2011 has been horrible with Miami this season and was demoted to the minors. He has a chance to revive his season and give manager Clint Hurdle some options at first base.
Toronto Blue Jays
It’s difficult to see exactly what the Blue Jays are up to. They gutted their farm system for very little in return, especially with such little impact this season. Adding Brandon Lyon, David Carpenter, Brad Lincoln, J.A. Happ and Steve Delabar deepens the bullpen for sure, but it’s not like those were the final pieces for a championship run.
St. Louis Cardinals
Last season the Cardinals added lefthander Marc Rzepczynski and righty Octavio Dotel and completely changed their bullpen. This season the additions of lefty Brian Fuentes and righthander Edward Mujica should serve the same purpose. But the key that is missing this season is that Edwin Jackson, also acquired last year, made 12 starts and threw 89 innings, allowing Kyle McClellan to move to the bullpen and complete the puzzle. Missing out on another starting pitcher this season will leave the Cardinals short of the postseason.
While the Reds seemed to have forgotten how to lose, even without superstar Joey Votto, the absence of a true leadoff hitter and big bat behind Votto will haunt the NL Central leaders. The Reds, with the best bullpen in the National League, improved themselves there by adding former Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton from the Kansas City Royals. Now Broxton and Sean Marshall in front of closer Aroldis Chapman really shortens games. But Reds fans are hoping the offense will do enough to get leads after six innings.
I don’t blame the Marlins for aggressively selling at the deadline. It makes sense. What’s tough to swallow for fans is that they were such aggressive buyers in the offseason, and even traded for Carlos Lee earlier in the season. Getting 21-year-old righthander Jacob Turner from Detroit should pay nice dividends for the future, but this season has turned into a debacle in South Florida.
Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox
I can understand throwing in the towel and watching the Yankees cruise to the AL East title. But with two wild cards, these teams are competing against the each other, the Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s. It doesn’t take much to separate from that pack. But these teams didn’t pull the trigger on any opportunities for improvement.
Caught in Between
The Cleveland Indians, Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland A’s were caught in that precarious position on the verge of contending, but reluctant to forsake their futures for this season. All three have players attractive to contenders, but they are in position to contend next season and beyond. With teams ahead of them in their divisions getting stronger, it’s understandable why these three will play out the season standing pat.
Charlie Miller (@AthlonSports)
Nicknames and baseball players just seem to go together like bat and ball. For as long as young boys and men have been batting baseballs around, they have given each other descriptive nicknames for facial features, deformed body parts, the way they played the game, hair color and, the most popular, shortening their surnames. In fact, some players with nicknames were given nicknames for their nicknames.
Here are the 50 best—and often very politically incorrect—nicknames in baseball history.
50. Don Mossi
Ears (also The Sphinx)
Perhaps you had to see Mossi to really appreciate the name. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton said Mossi “looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open.”
49. Ernie Lombardi
Not to allow Mossi and his ears steal all the thunder, the catcher who was also known as the world’s slowest human had a beak of monumental proportions. But the catcher hit his way into the Hall of Fame.
48. Nick Cullop
Cullop spent 23 years in the minors, hit 420 home runs and had 2,670 hits, both minor league records when he retired.
47. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown
Known more commonly as Three Finger Brown than by Mordecai, Brown capitalized on losing most of his index finger in a childhood farming accident. Apparently that helped him throw a devastating curveball described by Ty Cobb as the toughest in baseball.
46. Don Zimmer
Despite the success for the Red Sox in the late 1970s, Zim is blamed for the team’s collapse in 1978, ultimately losing a playoff game at Fenway Park (commonly known as the Bucky Dent game). Because of this, lefthander Bill Lee, with whom Zimmer often sparred, gave him the name Gerbil.
45. Bill Lee
And speaking of Lee, it wasn’t as though he was a mental giant himself. The lefthander’s outrageous, often irreverent personality and his fearless rhetoric earned him the name Spaceman, allegedly, from John Kennedy (the Red Sox utility infielder, not the former President). Just being left-handed in Boston was probably enough.
44. Jim Grant
Grant, who became one of the most successful African-American pitchers in the 1960s, was the roommate of his boyhood idol Larry Doby when he first came to Cleveland. It was the veteran Doby who dubbed him “Mudcat”, saying that he was “ugly as a Mississippi mudcat.”
43. Jim Hunter
Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finely often seemed more interested in flashy P.R. than winning baseball games. Evidently, this nickname was a product of the PR-conscious Finley more than any angling the Hall of Fame pitcher might have done in his home state of North Carolina.
42. Randy Johnson
Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. Former Expos teammate — yes, Johnson was originally a member of the Expos — Tim Raines once collided with him during batting practice, looked up at the 6’10” hurler and proclaimed, “You’re a big unit.”
41. Mark Fidrych
The affable righthander enjoyed talking to the baseball while on the mound and manicuring the mound on his hands and knees between innings. But it was because of his resemblance to Big Bird of Sesame Street fame that Fidrych was given his name.
40. Marc Rzepczynski
Some surnames scream for nicknames, like Yastrzemski with Yaz, and Mazeroski with Maz. But there are few names that could earn more points in the famous word game than this lefthander’s.
39. Doug Gwosdz
Ancestors of the former catcher of the San Diego Padres must have misspelled this name somewhere down the line. But as astute teammates surmised, his jersey resembled those charts hanging on walls in optometrists’ offices.
38. Johnny Dickshot
First of all, that is his real name. And secondly, he referred to himself as the “ugliest man in baseball.” So, we have no qualms about Dickshot making the list.
37. Luke Appling
Old Aches and Pains
Dubbed by teammates, it’s unclear whether the name was given in jest. But it is clear that Appling didn’t mind complaining about the physical demands of the job all the way to the Hall of Fame.
36. Roger Bresnahan
The Duke of Tralee
Nothing really unusual about this name; after all many players were named in honor of their hometowns. Earl Averill was the Duke of Snohomish after his hometown in Washington. But, Bresnahan was from Toledo. For some reason he enjoyed telling folks he was born in Tralee, Ireland.
35. Bob Feller
Taking the American League by storm as a teenager led to this nickname as well as The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa).
34. Edward Charles Ford
The Chairman of the Board
Well known as Whitey because of hair color, the lefty dominated the American League for 16 seasons as a member of the Yankees. As a tribute to his calm, cool demeanor in tough situations, he became known as the Chairman of the Board.
33. Leon Allen Goslin
Several sources agree on how Goslin acquired his name. Evidently, he waved his arms as he chased fly balls, had a long neck, and was not the most graceful player.
32. Willie Mays
Say Hey Kid
There is no definitive agreement on how Mays acquired this classic name.
31. Mickey Mantle
The Commerce Comet
Mantle, a star athlete from Commerce, Oklahoma, was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma, but wisely chose baseball.
30. Joe Medwick
Ducky-Wucky (also Muscles)
According to Baseball-Reference.com, fans called Medwick Ducky-Wucky more than merely Ducky, presumably because of his gait, or perhaps the way he swam. Teammates, seemingly out of self-preservation, never called him Ducky-Wucky, but chose instead the name, Muscles.
29. Brooks Robinson
If you ever saw Brooksie do his work around the hot corner, you would quickly understand the moniker. Teammate Lee May once quipped, “Very nice (play)...where do they plug Mr. Hoover in?”
28. Aloysius Harry Simmons
With an exaggerated stride toward third base. Bucketfoot Al bashed major league pitching at a .334 clip on his way to the Hall of Fame.
27. Lynn Nolan Ryan
No one readily admits giving him the name, but any hitter who stood in the box against Ryan is keenly aware of what the name means.
26. Darrell Evans
One look at the famous puppet and a glance at the power-hitting lefty, and you’ll know why.
25. Dennis Boyd
Born in Mississippi (where beer may be referred to as oil), the colorful righthander carried the nickname on to the major leagues.
24. Johnny Lee Odom
Reportedly, a classmate in grade school thought Odom’s face looked like the moon. Really?
23. Frank Thomas
Given to Thomas by White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson. Thomas put the big hurt on American League pitching for 19 years.
22. Garry Maddox
Minister of Defense
If you watched Maddox patrol center field for the Phillies in the 1970s, you immediately get the name.
21. Mike Hargrove
Human Rain Delay
And you think Nomar Garciaparra invented the step-out-of-the-box-and-adjust-your-batting-gloves routine. Nope. Seasons changed between pitches when he was at bat.
20. Daniel Joseph Staub
Le Grand Orange
Known as Rusty by the Texans while with the Colt .45s, he became Le Grand Orange in Montreal as a member of the original Expos.
19. Jimmy Wynn
His small stature and powerful bat led to this moniker.
18. Steve Balboni
Presumably, Balboni was given the name because of his propensity to hit home runs. It may also be noted that a double meaning could be bye-bye, as in “He gone” back to the dugout because of his propensity to strike out.
17. Joakim Soria
When the Royals’ closer took the mound, it was usually lights out for the opponent’s offense. He has since requested another, less violent name.
16. Frank Howard
The Capital Punisher
While playing in the nation’s capital, Howard punished AL pitching for 237 home runs in seven seasons, twice leading the league with 44, and finishing second in 1969 with 48.
15. Carl Pavano
After signing a four-year, $38 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2005 season, Pavano made just nine starts in four seasons, going 3-3 with a 5.00 ERA.
14. Lawrence Peter Berra
Evidently when Berra sat with arms and legs crossed a friend suggested he looked like a Hindu yogi. Now the term Yogi is associated with malaprops more than Hindu.
13. Mariano Rivera
Good night batters.
12. Rickey Henderson
Man of Steal
One look at his stats and you understand this one: 1,406 career steals and a record 130 in 1982.
11. Shane Victorino
The Flyin’ Hawaiian
Victorino plays the game with endless energy and spunk, but his heritage rules the day.
10. Vince Coleman
Vincent Van Go
A true artist of the stolen base.
9. Ken Reitz
Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon marveled at how the St. Louis third baseman could pick up everything.
8. Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda
The loveable Giant Panda.
7. Fred McGriff
One of ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman’s nicknames that actually stuck. Thanks McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog.
6. Kenny Rogers
“Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser. The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”
5. Jose Bautista
Bautista was terrific as Joey Bats in “The Hitman” on YouTube. He’s been even better as himself for the Blue Jays.
4. Harry Davis
Poor Davis lost his job as Detroit first baseman to some kid name Hank Greenberg in 1933.
3. Ron Cey
Playing for Tommy Lasorda in the minor leagues must have had its pros and cons. Having your manager dub you Penguin because of your awkward running style would probably fall on the con side.
2. William Ellsworth Hoy
As if anyone needed reminding, here’s a clear indicator of just how far political correctness has come in 100 years. William Ellsworth Hoy lost his hearing and ability to speak as a result of childhood meningitis. At only 5’4”, he was difficult to strike out and was the first player to hit a grand slam in the American League. He died in 1961, just five months shy of his 100th birthday.
1. George Herman Ruth
Babe (also the Bambino, Sultan of Swat, The King of Sting, The Colossus of Clout)
Babe was the only major leaguer large enough for five larger than life nicknames.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for August 6, 2012.
1. Reds — Aroldis Chapman toughest pitcher in majors.
2. Nationals — Closer Drew Storen finally gets his first save this season.
3. Yankees — Two four-game losing streaks since All-Star break.
4. Rangers — Scored 41 runs in last five games, but gave game away Sunday.
5. Pirates — Needed more than one of three vs. Reds; now have 11 at home.
6. Braves — Allowed just 23 runs over last 13 games.
7. Dodgers — Six streaks of three or more wins or losses since break.
8. Angels — Lead the majors in scoring after All-Star break.
9. Giants — Sweet sweep at Colorado.
10. Cardinals — Sweep Brewers during 1982 Reunion Weekend.
11. A’s — Magic seems to happen every night in Oakland.
12. White Sox — Won nine of 12 since being swept at Detroit.
13. Tigers — Miraculous win on Sunday to complete sweep of Tribe.
14. Orioles — Chris Tillman has been nice lift since joining rotation in July.
15. Rays — Batted just .225 in July.
16. Diamondbacks — Next 10 games vs. contenders.
17. Blue Jays — Have no pitchers in top 70 in ERA.
18. Mariners — Efficient work by King Felix in the Bronx on Saturday.
19. Red Sox — Lost three of four vs. the Twins.
20. Mets — R.A. Dickey one of four 14-game winners in majors.
21. Twins — Are Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau back in top form?
22. Marlins — Won just five of last 19 games.
23. Phillies — Acquired Hunter Pence at 2011 deadline, dealt in 2012.
24. Indians — Lost heartbreaker to Detroit to cap horrendous stretch.
25. Brewers — Lost 14 of 19 since break when not playing Houston.
26. Padres — Chase Headley earning team MVP honors.
27. Royals — Last two wins have come in extras.
28. Cubs — Eight of next 14 games are against the Reds.
29. Rockies — Absolutely no pitching in Denver this season.
30. Astros — Can’t join the American League soon enough.
AL Player of the Week
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles—It was bound to happen. As soon as Pujols signed the $250 million pact over the winter, it was a given that he would eventually be Player of the Week. The Angels’ first baseman batted .424 and slugged 1.121 for the week. He led the majors with six home runs and 13 RBIs. He also scored six times. His 11 extra-base hits helped boost his average for the season from .277 to .289.
AL Pitcher of the Week
David Price, Tampa Bay—The Rays just can’t seem to get their offense going, much to the dismay of their pitchers. Price was winless in two starts last week, but threw 15 innings and allowed only seven hits and five walks. He struck out 16 and capped the week with eight shutout innings against Baltimore in a game the Rays would lose 1-0 in 10 innings. He has allowed just four earned runs in his last 29 innings.
NL Player of the Week
Buster Posey, San Francisco—The All-Star catcher is proving to be a valuable cog in the Giants offense. Posey batted .500 last week, and his six walks gave him an on-base percentage of .600. He homered in three straight games and drove home nine runs.
NL Pitcher of the Week
A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh—Escaping New York proved to be just the ticket for Burnett, who is now 14-3 for the Pirates. Facing a sweep at the hands of the NL Central leaders at Cincinnati, the Pirates moved Burnett’s start up a day and he didn’t disappoint. He went 8.2 strong innings and gave up just two earned runs in the win. Earlier in the week, he tossed a one-hit shutout at Chicago.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams and players in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings and Players of the Week for July 30, 2012.
1. Reds—Everything falling into place in Cincinnati.
2. Nationals—Will Stephen Strasburg be available down the stretch?
3. Yankees—Followed a 2-5 West Coast trip by losing two of three to Boston.
4. Rangers—Need to get Josh Hamilton back on track soon.
5. Pirates—Playing well, but can’t keep pace with ultra hot Reds.
6. Dodgers—Sweep at San Francisco has Dodgers and Giants virtually tied.
7. Braves—Stingy pitching allowed just five runs over last four games.
8. Angels—Former Angel Fernando Rodney saves Sat. and Sun. games.
9. Giants—Nothing more painful than getting swept at home by Dodgers.
10. A’s—Green and Gold is red hot in Oakland.
11. Cardinals—Let weekend slip away in Chicago.
12. Tigers—Made huge splash with trades and filled big hole at second.
13. White Sox—Young Sox are not going away.
14. Orioles—Buck Showalter has so much to build on for the future.
15. Rays—With Evan Longoria coming back soon, you never know.
16. Blue Jays—Jays have been within two games of .500 since June 25.
17. Diamondbacks—Arizona has Giants and Dodgers looking over their shoulders.
18. Mariners—11-6 since All-Star break; brighter days ahead.
19. Red Sox—Felix Doubront is latest Red Sox ace.
20. Mets—Wheels are coming off and team is breaking down.
21. Indians—7-2 vs. Tigers this season, but ended weekend two under .500.
22. Marlins—Contenders in the offseason, sellers at the trade deadline.
23. Twins—Winning records vs. Cleveland and Kansas City this season.
24. Padres—3.16 ERA at home, 4.47 on the road.
25. Brewers—Bullpen has been absolutely terrible all season.
26. Phillies—Doesn’t look like a spark will happen.
27. Cubs—Totally different team on the road than at home.
28. Royals—Same sad story of struggle in K.C this summer.
29. Rockies—Won just four of 15 since the break; season getting bleaker.
30. Astros—Tough to find a silver lining right now.
AL Player of the Week
Paul Konerko, Chicago— Teammate Alex Rios led the AL in RBIs and Adam Dunn scored the most runs, but it was Konerko who was the most consistent man in the middle of the lineup for Chicago last week. He batted .435 and drove home seven runs. His power stroke had been missing since a minor wrist injury earlier this month, but he hit three home runs and added a double.
AL Pitcher of the Week
Scott Feldman, Texas—The Rangers have been scuffling terribly of late, but Feldman was terrific in two starts last week. He allowed just one run to the Red Sox last Monday and tossed eight shutout innings in a 2-0 win over the AL Central-leading White Sox Sunday night. Two of the Rangers’ last three wins are courtesy of Feldman, who did not walk a batter and struck out 10 in his two outings.
NL Player of the Week
Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee—The Brewers have not been very good of late, losing nine of their last 10 games. But the bullpen deserves most of the blame, certainly not the offense. Ramirez has done his part. Last week he batted .417 with four doubles and a pair of home runs while nursing a wrist injury that caused him to miss Sunday’s game.
NL Pitcher of the Week
Mike Minor, Atlanta—The young lefthander seems to be coming into his own after several false starts over the past two seasons. He logged 15 innings for the Braves last week without walking a batter. He gave up just 10 hits and whiffed 13. He allowed just two runs against Miami, but lost 2-1 before pitching eight innings and defeating the Phillies, 2-1.
After dictating the heaviest sanctions ever on an athletic program, NCAA President Mark Emmert said, “Our goal is not to be just punitive, but to make sure the university establishes an athletic culture and daily mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people.”
Now I ask you, Mr. Emmert, can you look parents, administrators, professors and students nationwide in the eye and assure them that every one of the NCAA’s institutions “will never again (place football) ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people”?
I would submit there are athletic programs and coaches all over the land that would stutter through questioning under oath defending their programs against accusations of putting sports “ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people.”
Do I believe all athletic programs are guilty of this? No way. Not even close. But to say that sports will “never again” be placed ahead of the ideals and original purposes of university is a bit comical, really.
Has basketball at the University of Kentucky ever been placed “ahead of education, nurturing and protecting young people”? What about college football at Alabama? Florida State? USC? Texas? Oklahoma? Michigan? What about lacrosse at Johns Hopkins? Duke?
At Penn State, there has been a sordid individual allowed to commit insidious crimes against young people. This is no doubt a very serious, sinister situation. However…
What business is it of the NCAA?
Shouldn’t the National Collegiate Association of Athletics stick to athletics? The NCAA should be about fair play, enforcing the rules governing the sports, promoting its institutions and ensuring a level playing field exists for all schools. This is a very serious legal matter. It’s not an athletic matter.
There is no doubt that the athletic program, and football program in particular, at Penn State has outgrown its original, primary purpose at the institution. And many coaches and administrators inside and outside the athletic department were much more interested in protecting themselves, their small kingdoms and their legacies than protecting young boys. There is no denying that and there is absolutely no excuse. There should be punishment. And for the record, I agree that Penn State was prudent in taking down the statue of Joe Paterno. But again, this isn’t a place for the NCAA.
I believe that individuals should be punished severely for their actions — and non-actions — in this case. I would take great care in not rushing to judgment and afford all involved due process. This process needs to be thorough. There are clear laws in this country that were specifically written to deal with such atrocities. Let’s allow the legal system to serve its purpose.
Punishing an institution really doesn’t make sense. After all, who really feels the pain when a university is punished? Administrators? Faculty? Students? Alumni? All of the above. And who in that group really deserves it? Maybe some, but those individuals should be dealt with by the courts.
Perhaps that’s an argument against most NCAA penalties, but this situation seems to cast a different light on the concept of punishing an institution long after those that were at fault are gone. And we’ll save that debate for another day.
Individuals, who exercised questionable, if not criminal, judgment, should be relieved of their jobs. But punishing the entire university?
The Penn State penalties as given by the NCAA:
• $60 million fine
I actually like the idea of fines in typical rules violations scenarios. I think it strikes at — or at least near — the heart of why schools are tempted to cheat. However, in this situation, I am concerned about those that actually feel the brunt of the fine. The Penn State athletic department, with the accompanying bowl ban, could struggle to clear $20 million over the next few years. The school will pay this fine over four years, so it all adds up to a lack of revenue to support athletic teams other than the football program. How will the volleyball team travel to games? Will the baseball team have to give up spring break trips to the south because the athletic department can’t afford it? How will the women’s soccer team get its funding?
• 4-year postseason ban
This is a terrific penalty if the players, coaches and students over the next four years commit some serious violations. How does this punish those involved? If the objective is to break down a university for its lack of institutional control over the past 15 years, the fines are sufficient.
• Loss of 40 scholarships
Much like the postseason ban, this cripples a football program. And by crippling the Penn State football program, what else is affected at the university? Other sports in the athletic department.
• Forfeiting 112 games
How can this penalty be anything but punitive? And what purpose does this really serve other than to attack Joe Paterno’s legacy? Perhaps that is reason enough, but is that really the NCAA’s place to do that? Former players and opponents will never view any of those games differently. On Oct. 25, 2008, Penn State went into the Horseshoe in Columbus and defeated the Buckeyes, 13-6. Will this action by the NCAA make Terrelle Pryor and Beanie Wells fell any better about that game? Are LSU fans celebrating their 2010 Capital One Bowl victory today? The fact is that none of the Penn State wins that were vacated were ill-gotten wins. There were no performance enhancing drugs. There were no ineligible players. There were no recruiting violations that enticed players to Happy Valley. There are not illegitimate wins here. Now if the NCAA wants to spend resources digging up old records and details in search of some of the aforementioned violations, that’s one thing.
So, what do we do with this tragic situation? There is no doubt that Jerry Sandusky has created a monumental mess for Penn State. He created it. Others exacerbated the problem by their inaction. Each individual connected with the Penn State football program should be under scrutiny, and either prosecuted or cleared. This begs for a thorough investigation of anyone who could have had knowledge of Sandusky’s actions. And any individuals who had knowledge should be dealt with harshly by the legal system. But there is no basis for grandstanding and headline-grabbing sanctions by the NCAA.
This is a legal matter, not an athletics matter.
Charlie Miller (AthlonCharlie)
A’s, as in the Oakland Athletics, are in a pennant race for the first time since 2006. We have the second wild card to thank for this, but the no-name A’s have been the hottest team since July 1. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when you assemble a competent pitching staff.
It’s no secret how critical bullpens are down the stretch, but one strong bullpen in particular could dictate a division race. The Cincinnati Reds’ pen has been terrific all season, but can they maintain their edge for another three months? The Atlanta Braves claimed the majors’ best pen at this time a year ago, but the high inning workloads began to wear on Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty over the last six weeks of the season. Reds manager Dusty Baker, never one to shy away from bullpen overuse, may see the same breakdown this season in Cincinnati. Closer Aroldis Chapman regularly hits triple digits on radar guns, but if he loses a few MPHs, his edge would be kaput.
Cabreras certainly have a way of leaving their marks on baseball pennant races and the playoffs. Ask any Braves fans — or Pittsburgh fan — from the early 1990s and they’ll recall the name Francisco Cabrera. At the center of three teams in pennant races in 2012 are Cabreras — Melky, Miggy and Asdrubal. Melky has been a huge lift for San Francisco’s offense this season. Miguel owns a permanent spot in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup and carries a huge burden for producing runs. He’s also playing a different position this season at third base. He is sure-handed and makes few errors, but his range is rather statuesque. Asdrubal, the Indians’ shortstop and No. 2 hitter, is anything but a statue in the field. If Cleveland makes a charge, Asdrubal will be a key reason for the team’s success. However, in case you’re asking, Edwar of the Rockies and San Diego’s Everth will have little impact on the races this season. Orlando played a huge role at shortstop for the Red Sox down the stretch in 2004. He followed that with an amazing run of making the playoffs with the Angels in 2005 and 2007, the White Sox in 2008, Minnesota in 2009 and the Reds in 2010. After breaking the string last season, Orlando is no longer in the bigs.
Two notable droughts are perilously close to ending this season. There could be postseason baseball in Washington for the first time since the old Senators met the New York Giants in the 1933 World Series. A much shorter, but perhaps more meaningful, drought is that the Pirates haven’t played in the postseason since Sid Bream just beat Barry Bonds’ throw from left field at the plate to end Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. The Pirates are also busy trying to make fans forget they have a 19-year streak of losing seasons in Pittsburgh.
Ellis, Ellis and Ethier
While that’s not a law firm, it is the three top OBPs for the Dodgers behind superstar Matt Kemp. With Kemp out of the lineup and Ethier playing sporadically, the Dodgers hit just six home runs in June. For Los Angeles to muster enough offense to ward off the rival Giants in the NL West, A.J. Ellis, Mark Ellis and Andre Ethier must support Kemp. The pitching staff is strong enough to keep the Dodgers in the hunt, but the lineup must catch fire.
He was the hero for St. Louis last October and the Cardinals need him to be as clutch in August and September this year. The fairy that sprinkled the magic dust in St. Louis around mid-August last season may not show up this year. Everything fell into place last season for St. Louis— especially in the bullpen — but Freese may need to produce earlier and more often to get the Redbirds back in the postseason. Waiting until their final strike in 2012 will be too late.
The Milwaukee Brewers are out of the race but that doesn’t mean that Greinke won’t be. The Milwaukee ace is being dangled as trade bait and could have a huge impact in a close race down the stretch. It would be unlikely for the Brewers to trade within their division, but adding a top starter to the Reds, Cardinals or Pirates would probably tip the scales in such a close battle. Another ace would give the Braves a real shot at the Nationals in the East, and probably lock up the second wild card. The White Sox, Tigers and especially the Indians would get an appreciable lift from Greinke as well.
Josh Hamilton is among the best players in baseball. He anchors arguably the best lineup in the game in Texas. There is little doubt that the Rangers will once again win the AL West and be favored in the American League playoffs. But they must be firing on all cylinders and Hamilton is an important cylinder. His track record for staying healthy for long stretches isn’t the greatest. If he spends too much time out of the lineup, the door will at least remain open for the Angels. And if he’s out for the postseason, all bets are off.
Since Stephen Strasburg’s recovery from Tommy John surgery began more than two years ago, the Washington Nationals have been handling him with kid gloves. Since the outset of spring training, the front office has insisted that their ace has a strict innings limit this season. While the exact number remains a mystery, it’s reported to be around 165, maybe as high as 180. Currently Strasburg sits at 105 innings after 18 starts. Ten more starts at six innings per puts him at 165 with two weeks left in the season. I’d love to eavesdrop on the conversation between general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson as they discuss shutting down Strasburg for the final two weeks and the potential postseason. That won’t go over well with the manager, Strasburg or the Washington fans starved for postseason baseball.
With the exception of 2008, Derek Jeter has played in the postseason every year since 1996. As he chases down Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer on the all-time hits list, Jeter is almost certain to add to his 152 postseason games and 191 postseason hits. The Yankee Captain doesn’t chase down ground balls as he once did, but he remains a spark at the top of a potent Yankees lineup that recently added Ichiro Suzuki.
The Chicago White Sox, thought to be in rebuilding mode this past offseason, surprised the baseball world by maintaining a lead in the AL Central past the All-Star break. They’ve done it with a rookie manager and as many as 10 rookies on the roster at one time. But it won’t be the rooks keeping the Sox atop the division. If Chicago hangs with the Tigers and holds off charges by the Indians, Paul Konerko will be the leader.
Lynn and Lohse
The St. Louis Cardinals have a potent lineup, a beleaguered bullpen and a rotation without last postseason’s ace Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia. Former ace Adam Wainwright continues to make progress in his return from Tommy John surgery, but it will be Kyle Lohse and Lance Lynn who must carry the Redbirds’ rotation. The two starters must consistently get through seven innings to give relievers Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte chances to close out games. Having to bridge a gap between the sixth and eighth innings has been a disaster for St. Louis this season. And Wainwright, Jake Westbrook and rookie Joe Kelly are not providing much help pitching deep into games.
The Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen is clearly the front runner for National League MVP so far this season. He’s leading the league with a .372 batting average, is tied for third in RBIs with 66, and even though he did not homer until May 8, is second in the NL with 22 bombs. The Pirates’ centerfielder must continue to perform at an elite level to keep the Bucs in the race. And I believe he will.
Excitement abounds in our nation’s capital once again. Ranking 13th and 14th in attendance among the 16 National League franchises over the past five seasons, the Nats are ninth this year with a bullet. Averaging more than 5,400 fans per game better than last season, Natitude has swept through the District.
During the past two seasons, Alexi Ogando has been a key weapon for the Texas Rangers. In 2010, he was a critical piece in one of the league’s best bullpens. Last season, he worked both as a starter and reliever. While effective early in the season, Ogando recently missed five weeks nursing a groin strain. Since his return, he’s been a bit shaky, but he will be asked by manager Ron Washington night in and night out to get crucial outs. The deeper the Rangers go into the postseason, the more important the bullpen — and especially Ogando — become.
Oh yeah, him. King Albert has been relatively silent so far this season. I mean, he’s been very good, perhaps even outstanding, but he’s been subpar on the Pujols Scale. He didn’t make the All-Star team. He doesn’t lead his team in any major categories, unless you count games, at-bats, doubles and walks. But down the stretch, no pitcher will want to face The Machine with the game on the line.
Few fans are familiar with Jose Quintana, but the longer the White Sox stay in the pennant race, the more fans will get to know the 23-year-old native of Columbia. His record is 4-1 with an impressive 2.30 ERA. The White Sox have won seven of his 10 starts and twice he has pitched eight shutout innings, only to watch the Sox lose. He will have an opportunity to pitch some key games for Chicago in August and September.
San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy has resisted using Sergio Romo as his primary closer for much of the season since closer Brian Wilson was lost to season-ending surgery. But Romo will be the key to the Giants’ bullpen down the stretch. Whether it’s in a more traditional closer role, or more likely a hybrid setup-closer, Romo will be called upon to get key outs whether it’s the eighth or ninth inning.
On May 3, when elite closer Mariano Rivera went down in a heap shagging flies during BP, the Yankees’ season and pennant hopes hung in the balance. Not since 1996 had the Yankees known anything other than Mo at the end of games. Suddenly Rafael Soriano was thrust into the spotlight of closing games in the Bronx. And the former Rays closer responded admirably with 24 saves in 26 opportunities. Now he must prove he can be the man down the stretch.
Trout and Trumbo
The two position players most responsible for the success of the Angels so far this season are Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo. When the Angels recalled Trout on April 28 and inserted him at the top of the lineup, he quickly sparked an offense that had been scuffling for the first month of the season. The Angels won 18 of his first 29 games as Trout chipped in with 35 hits, 12 walks and scored 20 runs. No player outside the hitter-friendly Coors Field in Colorado in 1996-97 has ever batted as high as .340 in a 30-30 season. After last Sunday, Trout was batting .357 with 31 steals and 15 home runs. Although power-hitting Trumbo led the team in home runs and RBIs in 2011, he was essentially cast aside once the team signed Albert Pujols over the winter. Given reps at third base and in the outfield, Trumbo — a natural first baseman — struggled in the field but not at the plate. His bat has forced manager Mike Scioscia to find a place in the lineup for the improving outfielder. Should the Angels chase down the rival Rangers this season, Trout and Trumbo will be in the middle of the mayhem.
Recently the ultra streaky Braves second baseman Dan Uggla has been pretty ugly at the plate. But he hustled out an infield single and forced a wide throw that enabled the Braves to cap off an amazing 11-10 win at Washington after being down 9-0. Atlanta needs run production outside of catcher Brian McCann, who must be rested occasionally, and the aging Chipper Jones, who has played in just 58 of the team’s 95 games this season. The Braves could use an Uggla hot streak come August.
Having never managed or coached at any level prior to this season, Robin Ventura managed the Chicago White Sox to the top of the AL Central at the All-Star break. In what was supposed to have been a rebuilding year in Chicago, Ventura’s White Sox have had a terrific season with as many as 10 rookies on the roster. How will the young manager with the young roster hold up during the pennant drive?
With the addition of an extra wild-card team in each league, MLB is getting exactly what it envisioned — wild races for the playoffs. Eight of the 11 AL teams not in first place are within four games of the final wild card spot. Fans in Oakland and Toronto actually have reason to believe their teams can play in October. With the one-game, do-or-die playoff for the two wild card teams in each league, there is a heightened emphasis on winning the division. So expect many more meaningful games down the stretch with more teams in the hunt and fewer teams playing out the string as spoilers.
NL East: Experienced Braves players vs. the inexperience of a pennant race among the Nationals. But Washington manager Davey Johnson is a proven winner, while Fredi Gonzalez allowed a 10.5-game lead to evaporate last season.
NL Central: Acquisitions will play a key role in this division, as will the schedule in the final week. St. Louis GM John Mozeliak has shown the guts and acumen to acquire the pieces necessary at the trade deadline. Can Neal Huntington do that in Pittsburgh? The Cincinnati Reds end the regular season with a road trip to Pittsburgh and St. Louis. It’s always better to end the year at home.
NL West: Big bat acquisition. Will the Giants or Dodgers boost their offense the most at the trade deadline?
AL East: Don’t be surprised the see the Orioles promote super prospect Dylan Bundy in September, much like the Rays did David Price in 2008.
AL Central: White Sox GM Ken Williams will be aggressive on the trade market, even after the non-waiver trade deadline passes.
AL West: If the Rangers are blessed with good health, their lead will be safe. If not, expect some help down the stretch by Loenys Martin with his speed and defense.
One of the most underappreciated players in the game, Yadier Molina is the heart and soul of the Cardinals. Former manager Tony La Russa referred to Molina as the most indispensible player in St. Louis, even when Albert Pujols was in town. His leadership during games, his handling of pitchers, his throwing arm and now even his bat, are among the best in the National League. Should the Cardinals surge and win the NL Central, Molina should receive considerable consideration for NL MVP.
Zimmerman and Zimmermann
Whether it’s with one "n" or two, the Zimmermen in Washington will be at the center of the NL East race down to the wire. Jordan with two n’s is a starting pitcher with a 7-6 mark for the Nats. His 2.35 ERA tells a more accurate story than does his W-L record. In Zimmermann’s six no-decisions, Washington is 4-2. And in his six losses, the Nats have yet to score more than three runs for him. The third baseman, Ryan, is a fixture in the No. 3 hole in the Nats’ lineup. As of Sunday, since June 24 Zimmerman is batting .392 with 11 home runs, 28 RBIs, nine doubles and 24 runs in 25 games.
Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst baseball teams in the league. Here's our MLB Power Rankings for July 23, 2012.
1. Rangers—Still the scariest team in the American League.
2. Reds—Back-to-back weekend sweeps, one without Votto.
3. Yankees—Vaunted offense couldn’t solve Oakland pitching.
4. Nationals—Recovered from coughing up a 9-0 lead on Friday.
5. Pirates—Sweep Marlins, but gain no ground on Reds.
6. Dodgers—Four games at St. Louis before critical series at San Fran.
7. Braves—Needed to gain ground vs. Nats, but lost last two for split.
8. Tigers—Turned 3.5-game deficit to 1.5-game lead in five days.
9. Angels—Took two of three from Texas, 10 games remain with Rangers.
10. Giants—Still 12 games remaining with the Dodgers.
11. Orioles—Most road wins in the American League.
12. Cardinals—Beat up on Cubs, but still five games back of Cincinnati.
13. White Sox—Outscored 30-9 during recent five-game losing streak.
14. A’s—Currently tied for second wild card spot. Amazing.
15. Rays—Offense? Lost two 2-1 games to Seattle over weekend.
16. Blue Jays—Swept by Yankees, then swept the Red Sox.
17. Red Sox—Big Papi now injured, Lester awful. What next for Sox?
18. Diamondbacks—Devoured Houston pitching for 33 runs in three weekend games.
19. Indians—4.5 games back is largest deficit for Tribe in 2012.
20. Mets—Lost eight of nine since break, now Nats coming to town.
21. Brewers—Trade talks will intensify this week.
22. Mariners—12-10 vs. three first place teams in AL.
23. Marlins—Seems like a long time since Fish were tied for first on June 3.
24. Phillies—One of three NL teams with a losing home record.
25. Royals—Most doubles in the majors (40) in July.
26. Twins—No. 6 in AL attendance; fans performing better than players.
27. Padres—Signed Carlos Quentin to long-term deal rather than trade him.
28. Cubs—Were playing much better until trip to St. Louis.
29. Rockies—Jamie Moyer’s 5.70 ERA second among pitchers with 10 starts.
30. Astros—10-player deal with Toronto, for what?
While the wiry Pittsburgh centerfielder with dreadlocks continues his march toward his first MVP, does the season he has put together rank among one of the all-time best?
We’ll be able to judge the full season later but from May 9 to July 13, McCutchen had an impressive 56-game run rivaling that of the legendary Joe DiMaggio in 1941.
During that historic streak, Joe D hit .403 with a .459 OBP and .691 slugging for a 1.150 OPS. Not bad. (Not as impressive as rival Ted Williams’ stretch during the same time period, but that’s a column for another day.)
McCutchen’s numbers are right there with DiMaggio’s. He hit .396 with a .442 OBP and .733 slugging for a 1.174 OPS. Arguably better.
DiMaggio hit safely in all 56 games, which is what makes that streak so special, obviously, and McCutchen hit safely in only 45 and reached by hit or walk in 51.
The Yankee Clipper was surrounded with a much better lineup and scored 57 times and collected 36 extra-base hits. McCutchen scored 45 runs and rapped out 33 extra-base hits.
So, maybe it’s not quite DiMaggio-esque, but it is curious that DiMaggio wasn’t walked intentionally a single time during his streak. American League pitchers never shied away from DiMaggio, presumably one of the hottest of any major leaguer ever. McCutchen was passed intentionally six times during his 56-game stretch, a sign of respect, or possibly disrespect for the Pirates’ lineup.
No one will remember McCutchen’s 56-game streak from May 9 to July 13, 2012, but it’s worth mentioning when talking about hot hitting stretches since McCutchen came in the league in 2009.
Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)