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August 31, 2008

Every Given Sunday

Moving Forward to Rewind

by John Perrotto

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Instant replay is here, although it's yet to be used after the first three days of being available to help umpires on home-run calls. While video may have killed the radio star, it is not expected to kill off the men in blue. Commissioner Bud Selig has made it clear that replay will not extend beyond boundary calls on homers, but even in its limited form, replay is stirring debate around the major leagues. Everyone has an opinion; people either love it or hate it, with seemingly no one standing on middle ground.

Orioles manager Dave Trembley is a traditionalist who says he doesn't play golf and doesn't network-he just likes to think about baseball-so it's not surprising that he is anti-replay. "I don't like it," Trembley said. "The game is the game. Let the game be pure in what it is. But I guess if they can move into a new Yankee Stadium, they can have instant replay. The game is evolving, much to my chagrin."

Trembley worries that Major League Baseball may be rushing into replay without properly testing the system in which an umpiring supervisor will be monitoring video feeds of all games at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York. "They better be sure that they've got the kinks worked out," Trembley said. "Otherwise, they are going to set themselves up for some embarrassing situations that could possibly occur. And I don't think Major League Baseball, at this particular point in time, needs that." Trembley believes that problems with home runs could be rectified by adding an umpire down each foul line, as is done for the All-Star Game and all post-season games. He also does not like the idea of video being instituted during the course of the season. "I find it very strange that with 30 games to go in the season that they would start it now. I find that very peculiar," Trembley said. "If they wanted it so bad, what took them so long to get it going and why wait until this particular point in time?"

Red Sox manager Terry Francona thinks MLB would benefit by expanding its umpiring staff while also using video technology. He would like to see one umpire added to each crew who would be rotated to a position of monitoring the video feed every fifth game. "It would take 10 seconds for them to make a call," Francona said. "They would have the ability to look at a replay, just like everybody in the clubhouse does. It would be a great teaching tool for younger umpires that come in the league, give some umpires days off as they get into the grind. They can watch what we're watching. They put up with nine innings of us screaming. Maybe we're wrong. Maybe there are days we have a point."

Mariners manager Jim Riggleman echoes the sentiments of Selig and many others in the game when he says he hopes replay does expand beyond its current form. "I think the human element umpires bring to a game is great," Riggleman said. "It's appreciated by fans and players. It creates a lot of interest. You don't want to take the game out of the umpires' hands."

While the World Umpires Association agreed to replay, Rays rookie third baseman Evan Longoria has concerns that some of the arbiters aren't necessarily on board with the idea of video help. "I think it's a good thing because it's going to get some calls right that are going to change games," Longoria said. "But at the same time it's given the umpires something to gripe about, and it kind of puts a chip on their shoulders as far as we don't think they're doing as good of a job as they can."

Pirates center fielder Nate McLouth plays in a home stadium, PNC Park, where fans could routinely interfere with potential home runs. He believes most players are in favor of replay. "The way the ballparks are built today, with all the various features of the outfield walls and the fans being so close to the action, it is really becoming impossible for the umpires to always be able to clearly see what is a home run and what isn't," McLouth said. "Those guys have really been put in an unfair position. Replay is going to give the umpires the tool they need to make sure they get the call right. Ultimately, getting the call right is the most important thing and what everyone wants to see. Nobody ever wants a game decided on a wrong call."

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The Mets lead the Phillies by one game in the National League East, and the two teams meet for the final time in the regular season in a three-game series beginning Friday at Shea Stadium. It should be an interesting series for reasons beyond the division race. There is bad blood brewing again between the two teams, who genuinely don't like each other, stemming from the Mets' behavior in an 8-7 loss to the Phillies in 13 innings last Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins had five hits in that game as the Phillies rallied from a 7-0 deficit to win. He suggested that a premature celebration by the Mets helped sparked the Phillies' comeback. "The other team gives you inspiration, let's put it that way," Rollins said. "And when you're able to take that and keep yourself motivated, it helps. If you were a player, you're looking over in that other dugout, you'll feel a certain type of way. You try to find something on any team, but especially these guys." Rollins was unhappy that Mets third baseman Fernando Tatis did a dance after hitting a three-run home run in the third inning.

Meanwhile, the Brewers hold a 5-game lead over the Cardinals in the NL wild-card race. The two NL Central teams don't meet again this season, just as it seemed sparks were ready to fly between them. Brewers reliever Carlos Villanueva flexed and pointed to the Cardinals' dugout after getting outfielder Joe Mather to pop out to end the seventh inning, preserving a 3-1 lead on Wednesday at Busch Stadium. Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who was on deck at the time, started toward Villanueva before being restrained by the umpires. "I told him to shut up and go to the dugout because he didn't have to do that," Pujols said. "That's when he said something in Spanish that I don't want to say to you [reporters]. He could do whatever he wants by pointing to their dugout and getting fired up. But he pointed the wrong way, to our dugout. I don't like that and I had to stand up for my teammates."

The Cardinals then scored four runs in the eighth as they ralled for a 5-3 win. "I guess he did us a favor because he woke up a sleeping giant," Pujols said. "[The Brewers] are pretty good. I respect the way they play the game. You don't have to do a stupid thing like that to disrespect the game." Brewers manager Ned Yost was not happy with Villanueva's antics either. "We had a talk about it," Yost said. "Oh yeah, we definitely had a talk about it."

---

Indians left-hander Cliff Lee is the favorite to win the American League Cy Young Award. In addition to a league-leading 6.7 SNLVAR, he has a 19-2 record, and history suggests that the league leader in wins usually captures the Cy Young. After beating the Tigers on Tuesday for his 19th win, Lee said he was not thinking about the Cy Young. "No. That's something people vote on. But I wish they could vote right now," Lee said with a laugh.

Lee is just the eighth pitcher since 1920 to win 19 of his first 21 decisions in a season. Roger Clemens was 20-1 for the 2001 Yankees while six others started off 19-2-Greg Maddux for the 1995 Braves, Ron Guidry for the 1978 Yankees, Gaylord Perry for the 1966 Giants, Whitey Ford for the 1961 Yankees, Preacher Roe for the 1951 Dodgers, and Lefty Grove for the 1931 Athletics. "When you talk about what Cliff's doing this year, it's his consistency that is as impressive as anything," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "It's fun to play behind him," Indians infielder Jamey Carroll said. "The way he takes the mound sets the tone for the game. It gets you fired up."

Lee can become the Indians' first 20-game winner since Perry went 21-13 in 1974 when he faces the White Sox on Monday night at Progressive Field. "I don't look at my record or ERA, all I concentrate on is putting up as many zeroes as I can," Lee said. "I'm not looking at that start as being any different than any of my other starts."

Meanwhile, there is an outside chance that two pitchers who were on the same team in the same season could both win Cy Youngs. Brewers left-hander CC Sabathia is being mentioned as a candidate in the National League, as he is 8-0 with a 1.59 ERA in 10 starts since being acquired from the Indians in a July 7 trade. Sabathia, last year's AL Cy Young winner, already ranks 24th in the NL with 3.7 SNLVAR. "CC's going to get his reward in terms of a paycheck," Yost said, referring to Sabathia's impending free agency. "People are going to be tripping over themselves to get to this guy."

---

What if one of the most downtrodden franchises in professional sports suddenly put a first-place team on the field? Unfortunately for the Rays, it hasn't meant much in the Tampa Bay area. The Rays are leading the AL East by 4 games over the Red Sox and have the AL's best record at 83-51, but that still didn't entice people to turn out to Tropicana Field this week when the Blue Jays visited for a three-game series. Attendance was 13,478 on Tuesday, 12,678 on Wednesday, and 14,039 on Thursday. Wednesday's crowd was the smallest among 15 major league games that night. Things have been a little better this weekend as attendance was 21,439 on Friday night and 34,805 on Saturday afternoon for games with the Orioles, although Saturday's attendance was given a boost by a post-game We the Kings concert.

The Rays are on pace to become the first division champion to draw less than 1.7 million fans in a season since the 2000 Athletics. While interest in the Rays seems to be at all-time high, people still aren't coming to Tropicana Field, which is located in St. Petersburg and is considered a fairly long drive for fans on the Tampa side of the bay. "To me, it's about how disheartening it is for everybody in the organization-the players, the coaches, and front office-to not see the excitement funnel its way into Tropicana Field," Rays president Matt Silverman told the St. Petersburg Times. "The TV ratings are high, and that's a great sign, but it hasn't translated to the number of people at Tropicana Field. It really takes the wind out of our sails We've poured our hearts and souls into making this a great draw, and a great fan experience. And to come home after a great road trip and have the smallest crowds in Major League Baseball was discouraging. We're proud of what we have done to turn the organization around. We've done everything we could to make it a compelling experience at Tropicana Field."

---

AL Rumors and Rumblings: The Angels are looking for middle infield help with shortstop Maicer Izturis out for the season and second baseman Howie Kendrick on the disabled list, and among their trade targets are the Blue Jays' David Eckstein, John McDonald, and Marco Scutaro, the Orioles' Juan Castro, and the Indians' Jamey Carroll. The Red Sox, Dodgers, and Rays also reportedly have interest in Eckstein. The Yankees are expected to not only pursue Sabathia as a free agent in the offseason, but to make a pitch for Blue Jays right-hander A.J. Burnett as well. Tigers reliever Todd Jones is expected to retire at the end of the season. Royals catcher Miguel Olivo does not plan to exercise his mutual option for 2009 and will instead become a free agent. The Orioles are expected to pick up the 2009 option on Trembley's contract before the end of the season.

NL Rumors and Rumblings: Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel will become a free agent at the end of the season, and has said he would be interested in playing in Japan next year if no major league club gives him an opportunity to be a starter. The Rockies will take a look at reliever Oscar Villarreal, who was released by the Astros last month, as part of their September call-ups. The Cubs plan to add a number of reinforcements for September once Triple-A Iowa finishes play in the Pacific Coast League playoffs, including right-handers Angel Guzman, Kevin Hart, and Michael Wuertz, catcher Koyie Hill, first baseman Micah Hoffpauir, and outfielder Felix Pie.

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Interesting facts as the 22nd week of the regular season comes to a close:

  • When the Mets blew a 7-0 lead and lost to the Phillies 8-7 in 13 innings on Tuesday, it marked the first time they had lost a game in which they had a seven-run lead since falling 9-8 to the Rockies on May 13, 2003.
  • Braves left-hander Mike Gonzalez has converted 37 straight save opportunities since his last blown save on June 25, 2004 while pitching for the Pirates against the Reds.
  • The Red Sox' Dustin Pedroia has set a club record for runs by a second baseman in a season with 106, breaking the old mark of 103 by Bobby Doerr in 1950. Pedroia also has 182 hits, one shy of the Red Sox record for a second baseman set by Del Pratt in 1922. Furthermore, Pedroia has 42 doubles to become only the fourth second baseman in Red Sox history with at least 40 two-base hits in a season, and the first since Jody Reed in 1991. Finally, Pedroia leads the major leagues with 20 games of three or more hits this season.
  • Rays right-hander Matt Garza has allowed only one run in 31 innings against the Blue Jays this season. The last time a pitcher worked that many innings against a team and allowed no more than one run was in 1985, when the White Sox' Britt Burns gave up one run in 32 innings against the Indians.
  • Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki stole his 40th base Friday, making him only the second player in Mariners history with at least three 40-steal seasons (he had 56 in 2001 and 45 in 2006). Julio Cruz had five straight seasons of 40 or more steals from 1978-82. Suzuki also has 118 games with three or more hits since breaking into the major leagues in 2001, more than other player during that span.
  • Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has played in 251 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the majors. Twins first baseman Justin Morneau is next with 223. Howard's streak began when he came off of the disabled list on May 25, 2007 and he has 78 home runs and 226 RBI during that span.
  • Just three teams in the major leagues have not lost a game when leading after eight innings: the Yankees (62-0), Phillies (61-0), and Giants (49-0).
  • Marlins closer Kevin Gregg has 29 saves this season after notching 32 last year, and is trying to become just the second pitcher in franchise history to have more than one season of 30 or more saves. Robb Nen had 35 in both 1996 and 1997.
  • The Cubs are 85-51, assuring them of a winning record for a second straight year after going 85-77 in 2007. The Cubs have now posted winning seasons in consecutive years for just the second time in the last 35 years; they were 88-74 in '03 and 89-73 in '04. Prior to 2003-04, the Cubs hadn't had consecutive winning seasons since notching six in a row from 1967-72.
  • The Marlins are the first NL team to have all four infielders with at least 20 home runs; second baseman Dan Uggla and shortstop Hanley Ramirez both have 28, first baseman Mike Jacobs has 27, and third baseman Jorge Cantu has 22. The Marlins could become the first team in major league history to have all four infielders with 25 homers in a season. The other five teams to have all four infielders with 20-plus home runs were the 1940 Red Sox (Jimmy Foxx, Bobby Doerr, Jim Tabor, and Joe Cronin), the 1986 Tigers (Darrell Evans, Lou Whitaker, Darnell Coles, and Alan Trammell), the 1996 Orioles (Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, B.J. Surhoff, and Cal Ripken Jr.), and the 2004 and 2005 Rangers (Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Hank Blalock, and Michael Young).
  • The Cubs' Geovany Soto set a single-season rookie record for catchers with his 20th home run Tuesday against the Pirates, surpassing the 19 hit by Randy Hundley in 1966. The last Cubs rookie to reach 20 homers was Billy Williams with 25 in 1961.
  • Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt improved to 22-1 lifetime against the Reds by beating them Wednesday. He is the first pitcher in major league history to win 22 of his first 23 decisions against a single opponent.
  • Astros closer Jose Valverde has 36 saves this season, and his 83 since the beginning of the 2007 season ranks second in the major leagues in that span behind the 93 of the Angels' Francisco Rodriguez.
  • Rodriguez became the fastest closer to 50 saves in a season last Sunday, reaching the milestone in the Angels' 129th game. The previous fastest was the Dodgers' Eric Gagne, who reached 50 saves in the 143rd game in 2003 on his way to finishing with 55.
  • Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster is just the third pitcher since 1969 to have 25 saves in a season and then win 15 games the following year; he had 28 saves in 2007 and is 15-5 this season. The other two pitchers to accomplish the feat worked solely out of the bullpen both seasons; the Tigers' John Hiller had 38 saves in 1973 before going 17-14 in 1974, and Mike Marshall recorded 31 saves for the Expos in 1973 and went 15-12 for the Dodgers in 1974.
  • Since divisional play began in 1969, only 10 teams that trailed by three or more games on the morning of September 1 went on to finish first: the 1995 Mariners (7 games back), 1978 Yankees (6), 1974 Orioles (6), 2001 Cardinals (6), 1973 Mets (5), 2006 Twins (5), 1969 Mets (4), 1993 Braves (3), 1973 Reds (3), and 2004 Angels (3).
  • The Pirates' John Russell received his first ejection of the season last Sunday against the Brewers, leaving the Nationals' Manny Acta as the only major league manager who has not been thrown out of a game this year. The Braves' Bobby Cox leads all managers with seven ejections, while the Twins' Ron Gardenhire has five, and the Mets' Jerry Manuel has four. Manuel had another that came when he was bench coach before being promoted to replace the fired Willie Randolph.
  • Suzuki or Young can both make history by reaching 200 hits this season-Suzuki needs 22 in the last 27 games, and Young needs 41 in the last 25 games. Suzuki would join Wee Willie Keeler as the only major league players to register eight consecutive seasons of 200 hits. Young would become the first right-handed batter to post six straight 200-hit seasons.
  • Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano became the first major league pitcher to drive in a run in eight straight starts since the RBI became an official statistic in 1920 when he singled in a run against the Pirates on Wednesday.
  • Right-hander Randy Messenger notched the 30,000th strikeout in Mariners history when he fanned the Twins' Nick Punto on Monday.
  • Red Sox right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka recorded his 16th win of the year Friday by beating the White Sox and he also tied Hideo Nomo, who won 16 three times, for the most victories in a season by a Japanese-born pitcher.
  • The Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman started four double plays Tuesday against the Dodgers, joining Scott Brosius and Alex Rodriguez as the only third basemen to accomplish that feat since 2000.
  • The Dodgers' Greg Maddux became the fourth 350-game winner and first since 1927 to start a game in Washington when he faced the Nationals on Wednesday, joining Pud Galvin (1892), Cy Young (1911), and Walter Johnson (1927).

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Series to watch this week with rankings according to Jay Jaffe's Prospectus Hit List:

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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