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June 8, 2008

Every Given Sunday

Paint Me a Picture

by John Perrotto

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It is funny how perception can color the portrait of a baseball player. Miguel Tejada was considered a malcontent last season with the Orioles, as the shortstop was portrayed as moody, a guy who had lost his zest for the game, and one appeared to be on the downside of his career. Astros general manager Ed Wade drew heavy criticism when he traded five players for Tejada last December. Wade came under more fire when Tejada was fingered as a steroid user just one day later, when the Mitchell Report was released. Throw in the fact that ESPN broke the story in April that Tejada is actually two years older than his listed age of 31, and Wade was considered the village idiot of the game's front offices.

Yet, Tejada is looked at in a different light by the Astros. Manager Cecil Cooper and his teammates hail Tejada for his leadership qualities and his infectious energy that seems to brighten the entire clubhouse. Scouts rave about his newfound energy and how he has gone back to resembling the players who blossomed into a superstar during his years with the Athletics, winning the AL's Most Valuable Player award in 2002.

From a strictly numerical standpoint, though, Tejada is actually a worse player this year than last. His EqA is .272 after he had a .286 mark in 2007. So how exactly has Tejada gone from being considered washed up to rejuvenated without altering his basic performance? "Winning," Tejada said with a smile. "We've been winning. When you're winning ballgames, everybody gets along and there aren't any arguments or people pointing fingers at each other. Winning always makes things better."

Until a recent skid that saw them lose seven of eight games, the Astros were one of the surprise teams in baseball during a season in which many observers felt they would battle the Cardinals and Pirates for the basement in the National League Central. The Astros are still a respectable 32-30.

Conversely, the Orioles ran their string of losing seasons to 10 during Tejada's four years in the Charm City. He was signed to a six-year, $72 million contract as a free agent between after the 2003 season with the idea that he would help transform the Orioles back into winners, but it didn't happen. "I went to Baltimore because I wanted to win and I thought we would do everything we could to win," Tejada said. "It just didn't work out that way, though, for a lot of different reasons. I know a lot of people wanted to blame me and that's OK. I know I tried my best. I battled and did what I could to make us a winner. The losing did drag me down, though. It dragged everybody down."

Tejada felt so disenfranchised by the end of last season that he would have welcomed a trade to anywhere. While Tejada didn't know much about the Astros at the time of the trade, it didn't take very long into spring training before he started feeling he was in the right situation. He no longer had to worry about being the face of the franchise, as the Astros already had established stars: Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Roy Oswalt. He has blended into a lineup that has been carried so far this season by Berkman, who leads the major leagues in VORP at 52.8 and has a .387 EqA.

"It's so much fun here," Tejada said. "We have a great group of guys. Everybody gets along and I feel very comfortable with everybody. It reminds of the the clubhouse we had in Oakland. And we have so many great players here, guys like Big Puma (Berkman) and El Caballo (Lee) and a lot of others, that one player isn't singled out to be the star. We all contribute to the team winning and that's a good feeling. There's a happy feeling here."

There was a feeling Cooper, in his first full season as a manager after replacing Phil Garner last August, could have trouble on his hands by adding Tejada to the clubhouse mix. Instead, Cooper says Tejada is more responsible than anyone for pulling the team together. "Every time I go to the mound, he's talking," Cooper said. "He's talking about the game, something that happened in the game. He's always encouraging guys. It's just his leadership. We thought he'd be an offensive player. He has been a great teammate. He has pulled us together in so many different ways. It's just who he is and how he goes about his business. He gets everybody fired up."

---

Things have settled down for the Mariners after they seemed on the verge of a collective nervous breakdown at mid-week. Prior to Wednesday's loss to the Angels at Safeco Field, team president Chuck Armstrong could be heard by players and reporters as he yelled at the Mariners coaching staff in a meeting room adjacent to the clubhouse. Following the loss, manager John McLaren had tears in his eyes during a 45-second expletive-filled outburst during his post-game press conference.

Armstrong admitted a case of bad timing in going on a tirade while reporters were permitted in the clubhouse. McLaren felt badly about using inappropriate language. However, both said they did not regret venting their frustrating over an underachieving team that is has the worst record in the major leagues at 22-40 despite a $117-million payroll that is ninth-highest in the game.

The coaching staff did not take Armstrong's harangue personally. "It was an obvious situation; he's the club president and he's entitled," first base coach Eddie Rodriguez told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "I understand. The reality is what it is. It brings to light some things from a different perspective. The bottom line is we all want to do all we can to do our part to turn this around."

Once things had settled down following McLaren's tirade, general manager Bill Bavasi held court with reporters outside the clubhouse, and said the Mariners were not going to give up on this season. "That's going to be a long time," he said. "That's going to be quite a while because we're not giving in. It's going to be real tough for us to give in. If we give in, it will be at the last minute, I'll tell you that."

Asked if the season could be turned around with the roster as currently constructed, Bavasi said there was no easy answer to that question. "Can it? It can. A lot of things can happen. Yes, it can happen. I don't know that it will. I think the pieces are there and they can do it. I'm not sure we're going to give them a chance. We're not going to try to just sit with this. We're in a tough time to make deals, to do anything besides take your own kids. If we think (catching prospect Jeff) Clement is ready to come back and contribute, or insert whatever name you want, yeah, we'd make those changes. Making a deal is not easy right now."

---

The Diamondbacks' Randy Johnson continued to cement his position as one the great pitchers in baseball history as he moved into second place on the all-time strikeout list with 4,680, moving ahead of Roger Clemens, who had 4,672. The ability of Johnson and Clemens to strike hitters out really doesn't compare, though, when put into the context of innings pitched. Johnson has worked 3,713 1/3 innings, giving him 10.76 strikeouts per nine innings, while Clemens pitched 4,672 innings and fanned 8.55 per nine innings.

Diamondbacks reliever Chad Qualls has a unique perspective on the two as he is now teammates with Johnson after playing together with Clemens with the Astros from 2004-06. "It's amazing to look at (Johnson's) raw numbers and see what he's done," Qualls told the East Valley Tribune. "It's ridiculous, honestly. You sit back and just say 'wow.'"

Johnson's current teammates realize how fortunate they are to have the 44-year-old left-hander their rotation after he underwent back surgeries each of the last two years. "It fires me up watching him do it (because) I know how much work he's put in, how much time he put in overcoming injuries," infielder Chad Tracy said. "Most people would be not here right now. It shows just how driven he is. You can't teach that. It's in you or it isn't."

Johnson also has 288 career wins, leaving him 12 away from becoming the 24th pitcher in history with 300. The only current pitcher even within sight of that milestone is resurgent Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina with 259.

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In another matter of reaching certain records, Derek Jeter joined some exclusive company this past week when he moved into third place on the Yankees' career hits list, behind Lou Gehrig (2,721) and Babe Ruth (2,518). Jeter, the shortstop and team captain, has 2,419 hits, moving past Mickey Mantle.

"It's cool to have as many of anything as Mickey Mantle," Jeter said. "It's kind of hard to believe. It's not something I ever set out to do. I just try to be consistent year in and year out. My friends and family have told me about things like that, but I never really sit down and reflect on anything like that. I'd be lying if I said it didn't mean anything, but it's not what I focus on. I just don't sit around and look at personal things. It's kind of unfair to your teammates, to reflect on personal things when you're trying to win."

When asked which of accomplishments meant the most to him, Jeter did not hesitate with an answer-being a part of four World Series winners in his 14-year career. "That's why you play," Jeter said. "And we're trying to win again. When you play a sport, you're trying to win, and that's all that should matter."

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AL Rumors and Rumblings: The Blue Jays may try to deal right-hander A.J. Burnett, who can opt out of his five-year contract after this season, at the July31 non-waive trade deadline, even if they are in contention,. Yankees co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner says he wants GM Brian Cashman to stay, yet won't talk about a contract extension until the end of the year, which could be too late, as Cashman will be free to pursue other jobs. Twins reliever Juan Rincon is very available on the trade market. Orioles right-hander Steve Trachsel has been demoted from the starting rotation to the bullpen, and will likely retire if he is released this season. Meanwhile, Orioles left-hander Adam Loewen will work in relief for the remainder of the season once he is healthy enough to come off the disabled list. The Orioles are considering moving their spring training camp from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Vero Beach in 2010. White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker was so irate that manager Ozzie Guillen suggested he might fired during a post-game tirade that he had to be talked out of resigning by owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Cubs are expected to pursue a deal for a left-handed starter before the deadline, even with both Rich Hill and Sean Marshall at Triple-A Iowa Cardinals left-hander Mark Mulder, recovering from shoulder surgery, will try one more minor league rehabilitation stint this summer, then retire if he is not progressing. The Brewers are leaning toward keeping Salomon Torres as their closer even after Eric Gagne comes off of the DL. Scott Podsednik is close to supplanting Willy Taveras as the Rockies' starting center fielder. Dodgers backup catcher Gary Bennett has overcome his case of the throwing yips while on the DL for plantar fasciitis.

---

Interesting Facts as Week 10 comes to a close:

  • Braves third baseman Chipper Jones is hitting .420. The last player to have that high of a batting average on this date was Paul O'Neill, who was hitting .431 for the 1994 Yankees.
  • Reds center fielder Jay Bruce had 15 hits in his 25 career at-bats, the first player to perform that feat since Chris Jones with the 1991 Reds.
  • Blue Jays right fielder Armando Rios has a hit in 26 consecutive games against the Yankees, the longest against the Bronx Bomber since the Tigers' Charlie Gehringer hit in 31 in a row from 1935-36. It also ties the current longest active streak by a player against a team as the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki has hit in 26 straight against the Royals.
  • The Cubs had a 7-0 homestand that ended last Sunday, winning three against the Dodgers and four against the Rockies at Wrigley Field. It was the first time the Cubs swept a homestand of longer than six games since going 10-0 from April 14-26, 1970 against the Phillies, Expos, Cardinals, and Astros with Ken Holtzman and Bill Hands each getting three wins in that span.
  • Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez had a .379 career batting average at the Metrodome, the highest ever for a player with at least 75 plate appearances.
  • Pirates outfielder Jason Michaels hit a pinch-hit grand slam against the Cardinals on Monday night, the first by a Pittsburgh player since Craig Wilson connected off the Brewers' Wayne Franklin on July 17, 2003.
  • The Cubs had three home runs and six RBI in a 9-6 win over the Padres on Tuesday, only the fourth time in the last 100 years that reached those figures in both categories in the same game. Mark DeRosa, Alfonso Soriano, and Geovany Soto hit the home runs, while Reed Johnson had two stolen bases, and Ronny Cedeno, Mike Fontenot, Soriano, and Ryan Theriot had one each. The last time the Cubs performed that feat was in a 16-15 win over the Expos on May 14, 2000, as Henry Rodriguez had two home runs and Damon Buford added one while Eric Young stole five bases and Shane Andrews added one.
  • The Royals are averaging just 3.73 runs a game, and are in danger of becoming only the eighth AL team since 1990 to average less than four a game, a list that includes the 1991 Indians (3.56), 2002 Tigers (3.57), 1992 Angels (3.57), 2003 Tigers (3.65), 1990 Yankees (3.72), 1998 Devil Rays (3.83) and 1990 Mariners (3.95). Each of those teams lost at least 85 games.

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Three series to watch this week, with rankings according to Prospectus Hit List:

No. 5 Braves at No. 1 Cubs, Tuesday-Thursday June 10-12
Probable pitching matchups: Tom Glavine vs. Ted Lilly, Jair Jurrjens vs. Ryan Dempster, Tim Hudson vs. Sean Gallagher

No. 1 Cubs at No. 10 Blue Jays, Friday-Sunday June 13-15
Probable pitching matchups: Carlos Zambrano vs. A.J. Burnett, Jason Marquis vs. Roy Halladay, Ted Lilly vs. Jesse Litsch

No. 4 Phillies at No. 9 Cardinals, Friday-Sunday June 13-15
Probable pitching matchups: Kyle Kendrick vs. Kyle Lohse, Adam Eaton vs. Joel Pineiro, Brett Myers vs. Todd Wellemeyer

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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