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September 7, 2008

Every Given Sunday

Scoops of all Sizes from Around the Major Leagues

by John Perrotto

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White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen was chatting with a group of reporters this past week, when the talk turned to analyzing the remaining schedules of the two contenders in the American League Central. Some felt that the Sox had the easier path to winning their first division title since 2005, a season in which they also won their first World Series since 1917. Others believed that the Twins had the clearer path to a second AL Central crown in three years.

The always-colorful Guillen waved his hand to put a stop to the talk. "I hate to think about stuff like this," he said. "It just clutters my mind because I start thinking about 50 different things. Let's just play the games and see what happens. That's the way I approach managing this team, because you never know what you're going to get with these guys. Every day is something new. Trying to figure out my team is a full-time job, and I haven't figured them out yet." Guillen smiled as he said it.

It has indeed been an interesting season for the White Sox and the AL Central. The Tigers were the pre-season favorites to win the division after acquiring slugger Miguel Cabrera and left-hander Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins in a big deal at the Winter Meetings, and the Indians figured to be a formidable club again after winning the division last season and coming within a win of getting to the World Series. Now, with less than a month remaining in the season, it's the White Sox and Twins battling for the division title, while the Tigers and Indians are playing for third place. The White Sox hold a 2-game lead.

The Sox will have to hang on without their breakout player; left fielder Carlos Quentin suffered a broken left wrist Monday in a game against the Indians, and will undergo surgery tomorrow. Quentin will almost certainly miss the rest of the regular season, and his chances of returning for the postseason are doubtful.

That wasn't the only injury the White Sox suffered during the series at Progressive Field. On Tuesday night, third baseman Joe Crede left the game with soreness in his back, which he had surgically repaired last year. Guillen is not counting on Crede to play again in the regular season. "As much as you really want to dwell on it, you can't," said Nick Swisher, who takes over for Quentin in left after spending time at first base and center this season. "We know where this train is headed. You're either on it or you're not. We've been headed in the right direction all year, and we're not going to stop now."

In a corny move orchestrated by catcher A.J. Pierzynski, the Sox adopted Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" as their theme song during the '05 title run. That sentiment fits again this season, as the White Sox have believed since spring training that they could contend, despite going 72-90 last season for their most losses since finishing 69-92 in 1989. "I know a lot of people seemed to count us out before we ever got to spring training, but you could see that the pieces of the puzzle were there in the spring," Pierzynski said. "You just wondered if the pieces would all fit together. There was a feeling that if the pieces did fit, then we'd better than what people were predicting for us."

The pieces have locked together quite well; the White Sox rank fifth in the major leagues in runs scored per game (5.07) and 11th in runs allowed (4.39). They have had some surprise performances, particularly from Quentin, left-hander John Danks, and right-hander Gavin Floyd, all acquired by general manager Ken Williams in the last two years. Quentin was the odd man out in the Diamondbacks' outfield last season, and now he leads the American League with 36 home runs and has a team-leading .318 EqA. Danks leads the rotation with 4.6 SNLVAR and Floyd has a solid 2.6 mark in their second seasons after Williams got Danks from the Rangers for right-hander Brandon McCarthy and Floyd from the Phillies for right-hander Freddy Garcia, two trades that were widely panned at the time.

"Quentin has obviously been the big key," Pierzynski said. "I don't think anybody expected him to have this kind of year, and you need guys to have breakout years if you're going to win a championship. Danks is a guy with great stuff who learned from the mistakes he made as a rookie last season and corrected them, and Floyd is the classic case of a pitcher who has good stuff, but for whatever reason, has benefited from a change of scenery. "You can't give Kenny Williams enough credit for all those moves. We wouldn't be in the position to get to the playoffs without what those guys have done."

How well the White Sox weather the losses of Quentin and Crede remains to be seen. The general consensus is that the AL Central will be decided in the final week of the season, when the White Sox visit the Twins for a three-game series at the Metrodome from September 23-25; the Sox are just 1-6 at the Metrodome this season. "We don't play well in that dome, and it's going to be tough for us if we need to go in there and win that series," Guillen admitted. "But my guys have surprised me all year. When I think we're ready to start playing really good baseball, we hit a bad stretch. Then when I think we're really going (bad), we'll play very good. I don't know what to think. Maybe they'll surprise me one more time when we get to the Metrodome, and play well there for a change. At least, that's what I'm hoping for."

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The Orioles are in their usual swoon during the final third of every season. The Orioles are 0-5 in September after going 11-17 in August, and are now securely in last place in the AL East with a 63-78 record, 22 games behind the first-place Rays and 12 games behind the fourth-place Blue Jays. Their current level of play did not dissuade Orioles president Andy MacPhail from exercising the club option on manager Dave Trembley's contract for 2009, or from adding a club option for 2010. Trembley is 103-131 since being promoted to replace Sam Perlozzo on June 18, 2007. "I think I have the responsibility to be fairly objective about the level of talent the manager has, and the degree of difficulty, and try to access the areas of the front office I need to improve," MacPhail said. "The team record is not a 100 percent function of the manager."

Trembley, whose team is headed for an 11th consecutive losing season, was not surprised that he was retained. "I never doubted one bit that I was going to come back, because I'm dealing with people who it's important for them to value hard work, being fair, being honest; all those things we've always thought to be very important," Trembley said. "It's never been about me, but the entire organization."

Trembley hasn't been able to figure out how to make the Orioles winners late in the season. They're 130-179 in the last 11 Augusts, and 118-173 in September since 1998. "I don't know [if] there is one specific reason, because each year there has probably been something different," Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said. "One year we didn't hit, one year we didn't pitch, one year we got hurt. It could be all sorts of different reasons. But I would say the two main ones would be depth and scheduling, because we play all the AL East teams in September."

The Orioles haven't been playing for anything late in the season since their last AL East title in 1997. "We are going to play hard no matter what, but I think there is something to be said for every pitch, every out means something, something even more than for us probably," Roberts said. "Not that we take anything lightly or for granted-I don't want that to come across that way, and I don't think anybody would see it that way. It's just the nature of sports."

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The Phillies are chasing the Mets in the National League East, trailing by two games as the teams play a day-night doubleheader today to conclude their three-game series at Shea Stadium tonight.

Now that they find themselves in the thick of a pennant race, don't look for right-hander Adam Eaton to take the mound for the Phillies in any significant situations in the next three weeks. Eaton returned to the Phillies on Monday when the major league roster limit expanded to 40 from 25 following a five-week banishment to the minor leagues. While spending time in the minor leagues helped Phillies right-hander Brett Myers turn his season around, Eaton pitched no better at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Double-A Reading, or Low-A Lakewood than he did in the major leagues, going a combined 0-5 with a 7.02 ERA in seven farm starts. Eaton had 0.7 SNLVAR in 19 starts before his demotion, matching his mark from last season in 30.

While some GMs hate to ever own up to a mistake, the Phillies' Pat Gillick, who is 70 and retiring at the end of this season, concedes that giving Eaton a three-year, $24.5 million contract as a free agent prior to last season wasn't a great move. "Maybe it didn't work out," Gillick said. "[Trading Floyd for Garcia] didn't work out. That's history. If you go back, you can look at it and try to evaluate how you might have screwed up. But you've got to forget about it. With trades, you try to do as much research and be as thorough as possible, but sometimes it just doesn't work out. Certainly, we thought Adam would pitch better. We thought Garcia would pitch better, and Gavin's had a good year for the White Sox. Those things, I think you have to forget about them and move on."

---

It was an interesting week in the Major League Baseball offices in New York, as the instant replay system that was instituted on August 28 received its first test, and the five-member committee that reviews official scorers' decisions was asked by the Brewers to turn a one-hitter by left-hander CC Sabathia into a no-hitter.

The first use of replay took place Wednesday at Tropicana Field, when Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez hit a drive to left field off of Rays closer Troy Percival that bounced off of a catwalk behind the foul pole. Third-base umpire Brian Runge signaled home run, but Rays catcher Dioner Navarro and manager Joe Maddox protested, causing the umpires to review the play. The umpiring crew left the field to check the replays, returning two minutes and 15 seconds later with the verdict that the home run call would stand. The expediency pleased commissioner Bud Selig, who begrudgingly gave the OK for replay to be used only in determining boundary calls on homers. "We had internal reviews, external reviews, reviews from all the people who were there, and everyone was very complimentary," Selig told the St. Petersburg Times. "It was seamless. It went just the way it was supposed to go. I've said that if we did it right, it would save time, and it did."

Yankees GM Brian Cashman was also pleased with how the first review was executed. "I think, ultimately, it gives everybody closure to believe that whatever call gets made is going to be the right call," Cashman said. "That's what the umpires want, that's what both teams want, that's what the fans want."

The Brewers also got closure in their bid to get Sabathia his first career no-hitter, but the not the kind that they had hoped for. He had allowed only one hit against the Pirates last Sunday in a 7-0 win at PNC Park, a tapper by third baseman Andy LaRoche in the fifth inning that Sabathia tried to field as he came off the right side of the mound. Sabathia dropped the ball as he tried to make a bare-handed pickup, and official scorer Bob Webb ruled it a single. The Brewers appealed Webb's decision, claiming Sabathia should have been charged with an error, but MLB's five-member scoring review committee upheld the call. "We appreciate the opportunity offered by the league to have plays reviewed," Brewers GM Doug Melvin said. "While we had hoped for a different outcome, we understand that an official scorer's role is very difficult."

The committee has never awarded a no-hitter on appeal, though back on May 5, 1917 the Browns' Ernie Koob gave up only one hit in a 5-0 win over the White Sox, a single by Buck Weaver on a bouncing ball between first and second base. The next day, official scorer J.B. Sheridan changed the call to an error on second baseman Ernie Johnson.

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NL Rumors and Rumblings: There is a growing belief that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa may step down at the end of the season to pursue a general manager's job. ... The Diamondbacks are so happy with the job that Adam Dunn is doing at first base that they are considering re-signing him as a free agent in the offseason. ... Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent is expected to retire at the end of the season, regardless of whether or not he is able to return from knee surgery to play again this year. ... The Padres plan on giving third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff some starts at first base to showcase him for a possible trade, which would allow rookie left fielder Chase Headley to move back to his natural position of third base. ... The Marlins are considering moving third baseman Jorge Cantu to first base next season, playing Dallas McPherson at third, and trading first baseman Mike Jacobs in the offseason. ... Reds left-handed reliever Kent Mercker, who has been out most of the season with back problems, plans to retire. ... The Cardinals are giving strong consideration to re-signing infielder Felipe Lopez as a free agent, as he has played well for them since being picked up subsequent to his release by the Nationals. ... The Rockies have been so impressed with left-hander Jorge De La Rosa's recent work that they plan to have him in the rotation at the start of next season. ... The Cubs are willing to trade rookie first baseman Micah Hoffpauir, who would fit on a club looking for left-handed power.

AL Rumors and Rumblings: The Royals won't re-sign second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, and they plan on targeting Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal and Mariners left fielder Raul Ibanez as free agents, while also seeing if there is a trade market for outfielder Jose Guillen. ... The Yankees have decided to use Joba Chamberlain as a reliever next season, with the possibility of an in-season transition to the rotation as they did with him this year. ... The Steinbrenner brothers want Brian Cashman to stay, but the GM's contract is up at the end of the year, and he is putting off talks until after the season. ... The Mariners seem inclined to trade third baseman Adrian Beltre this winter so that they can give his job to rookie Matt Tuiasosopo. ... The Rangers plan to use Gerald Laird as trade bait in an effort to acquire some pitching and break up their catching logjam. ... Athletics designated hitter Frank Thomas is considering retirement after a season ruined by leg injuries. ... The Tigers will consider acquiring a leadoff hitter over the winter so that they can move center fielder Curits Granderson down in the batting order and take advantage of his run-producing skills. ... Catcher Vance Wilson is willing to accept a minor league deal to re-sign with the Tigers after missing two full seasons while recovering from a pair of reconstructive elbow surgeries. ... Right-hander Jered Weaver figures to be the odd man out in the Angels' post-season rotation.

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Interesting facts as the 23rd week of the regular season comes to a close:

  • On Monday Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre and Diamondbacks shortstop Stephen Drew became the first two major league players to hit for the cycle on the same day since the Giants' George Burns and Tigers' Bobby Veach did so on September 17, 1920.
  • Second baseman Dustin Pedroia's 33 runs scored in August were the most by a Red Sox player in one month since Dom DiMaggio and Billy Goodwin both scored 35 times in May, 1950.
  • Pedroia is only the fourth second baseman in major league history to have 180 hits, 100 runs scored, 40 doubles, and 15 home runs in a season, joining Charlie Gehringer (1930, 1932, 1936), Roberto Alomar (1996, 1999, 2000) and Alfonso Soriano (2002).
  • Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols extended his major league record of consecutive seasons hitting at least 30 home runs to start a career to eight. That is double the next-closest hitter on the list, Mark McGwire, who had a run of four straight seasons from 1987-90.
  • On Friday against the Yankees, Mariners right-hander Brandon Morrow became the first pitcher to come within four outs of a no-hitter in his first major league start since the Red Sox's Billy Rohr had his bid broken up by Yankees catcher Elston Howard's two-out single on April 14, 1967.
  • Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte has 70 wins following the All-Star break since 2000, tops in the major leagues in that span. Giants left-hander Barry Zito is second with 69.
  • Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel has hit 25 home runs this season, and is only the second player in major league history, along with Babe Ruth, to have seasons of both 25 or more starts as a pitcher and 25 or more homers as a hitter.
  • Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has reached 30 home runs for the 12th time in his career, and for the 11th consecutive season. It is the third-longest streak in major league history behind Barry Bonds (13) and Jimmie Foxx (12). Only Hank Aaron (15), Bonds (14), Mike Schmidt (13), and Ruth (13) have more 30-homer seasons.
  • Left-hander Cliff Lee is the first Indians' pitcher to win 20 games since Gaylord Perry went 21-13 in 1974.
  • Third baseman David Wright is the first player in Mets' history to have four seasons of 100 or more RBI, and he has done it in consecutive years. Darryl Strawberry had three in 1987, 1989, and 1990. Wright is also one of only three third baseman in major league history to have four consecutive seasons with 25 or more home runs before his 26th birthday, joining Eddie Matthews (six, 1952-57) and Eric Chavez (four, 2000-03).
  • Athletics outfielder Rajai Davis has 28 stolen bases with just 189 plate appearances this season. Since 1992, the only major league player with more steals in fewer than 300 plate appearances is Otis Nixon, who stole 26 bases in 176 plate appearances for the 1999 Braves.
  • Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore has 84 RBI, and needs 16 in the last 22 games to become only the second player in major league history to drive in 100 runs from the leadoff spot, joining Darin Erstad, who had 101 for the 2001 Angels.
  • Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun has hit 68 home runs in his career, the fifth-most after two seasons in major league history behind Joe DiMaggio (75), Ralph Kiner (74), Matthews (72), and Pujols (71).
  • Athletics left-handed reliever Alan Embree had pitched in at least 60 games for a 10th straight season, becoming the seventh major league pitcher to accomplish the feat along with Lee Smith (12, 1982-93), Mike Myers (12, 1996-2007), Jose Mesa (10, 1995-2004), Mike Timlin (10, 1997-2006), Steve Kline (10, 1998-2007), and David Weathers (10, 1999-2008).
  • There have been 14 complete games thrown in the major leagues this season that have required 100 pitches or less, and Rays right-hander James Shields is the only pitcher to have two. He had a 92-pitch effort against the Angels on May 9, and needed 99 pitches to finish off the Red Sox on April 27.
  • Center fielder Curtis Granderson has reached double digits in doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases for a second consecutive season, and is only the fourth player in Tigers' history to have multiple seasons of quadruple doubles, along with Veach (1920, 1921), Ty Cobb (1921, 1925), and Gehringer (1929, 1930). Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Hall of Fame outfielder Goose Goslin achieved that mark five times, more than any other players in major league history.

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Series to watch this week with rankings based on 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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