- Awful Game: Perhaps the worst ending to any baseball game this season came to the Orioles on August 16th, against (who else?) the Yankees. The O’s jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, thanks to a Tony Batista sacrifice fly…which came when Jay Gibbons was supposed to be up. The Yanks, however, were asleep at the switch on this one, didn’t make any sort of protest, and so the run stood. After four innings, the O’s led 3-1. New York got a run in the fifth from a John Flaherty home run, tied the game in the seventh on another John Flaherty homer. Now, any game where you give up two home runs to John Flaherty is a Bad Game…but it wasn’t over yet.
Mariano Rivera to close out the game. The first hitter he faced, Luis Matos, drilled his 10th home run of the year to send the game into extra innings. Nobody did anything in the tenth, or the eleventh. In the top of the 12th, Jason Giambi homered to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. Jeff Nelson comes in to pitch. He gets Batista, hitting in the proper spot, to fly out. He strikes out B.J. Surhoff.
The pinch hitter for Jose Leon was Jack Cust. Now, I like Cust. He’s a fine hitter (.280 EQA), with big-time power and patience, but when it comes to the non-hitting parts of the baseball game, like running and fielding…well, he’s just not that accomplished. So Cust pinch-hits, with two outs in the 12th, down by a run, and works Nelson for a walk. Still alive. The next hitter, Larry Bigbie, rips a drive into the right-center field gap. Cust rounds third when the Orioles third-base coach, Tom Trebelhorn, put up a late “Stop” sign. When Cust stopped, on the grass , his feet went out from under him. Karim Garcia had gotten the ball to Alfonso Soriano, who threw to 3B Aaron Boone. Cust heads for home. Boone tosses to the catcher, Flaherty, who starts running Cust back towards third, and eventually tosses back to Boone. When Cust turns back towards home, there’s nobody there. For some inexplicable reason, the pitcher and first baseman have both moved into position to back up third base. All he has to is run home…and he can’t. He takes three steps, stumbles and staggers and finally falls to the ground twenty feet away from the plate, where Boone catches up to him and tags him for the final out of the game. It was the team’s sixth straight loss; it would ultimately reach eight.
- September: The September call-ups are traditionally thought of as a chance to call up promising rookies, to get an early look at next year’s team. For the Orioles, though, the call-up period promises to be a recovery ward, with half a dozen players being called off the disabled list. Jerry Hairston has recovered from his broken foot, and will try to take his second base job back from Brian Roberts–although Roberts will probably see some time at short, pushing Deivi Cruz out of the way. Melvin Mora‘s bruised hand has improved enough for him to come back. David Segui is only experiencing “normal” pain in his wrist when he swings, whatever that means – but the Oriole fron office considers that to be a good thing, and so we’ll see the Fragile One next week. Omar Daal and his creaky shoulder are supposed to pitch in the minors this week, and then get worked in for a couple of starts down the stretch (keep in mind that he’s signed through next season). Kurt Ainsworth, who came from the Giants in the Ponson trade, is nearly recovered from his broken shoulder. And finally there’s Erik Bedard, the Orioles’ top pitching prospect. He had Tommy John surgery last September, and only started pitching again in the last few weeks, getting in a few games in the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn leagues.
- And Then There Were None: After trading away Jack Cust, the Rockies were left with only one prospect to be found on BP ‘s Top 40 Prospects list, assembled before the season. While there’s an argument that newcomer Chin-Hui Tsao should have be added, the only remaining member in the Rockies organization is Brad Hawpe. Hawpe steadily moved up the ladder of the farm system, spending one year at each level and putting up a monster .347/.448/.587 line in Single-A Salem in 2002. Naturally, he headed to Double-A Tulsa this season, the next measured step on the way to Denver.
Hawpe is a first baseman, but the Rockies–who are already set at that position–are trying to shove him into the outfield, having planned to send him to Venezuela last winter to get a head start on tracking fly balls. With all the political unrest there last winter, Hawpe only got into 22 games and he effectively ended his season at Tulsa in mid-July by pretending to be Junior Griffey (Cincinnati edition) and separating his shoulder diving for a ball, further limiting his experience. His performance this year at Tulsa (.282/.344/.509) was already markedly off his previous seasons, perhaps a result of the position change. The Rockies are hopeful that playing in the Arizona Fall League this year will help him get back on track, but Hawpe’s stock is falling fast.
Savings: Four Rockies relievers have more than 55 IP this year. Three of them are posting great numbers, according to Michael Wolverton’s Reliever Evaluation Tools. They are led by Brian Fuentes who has prevented 14.8 more runs than an average reliever (ARP), or about 1.5 games worth of runs. Following closely behind are Justin Speier and Steve Reed with 11.6 and 10.5 ARP, respectively. Then there’s Jose Jimenez with -8.8, a performance that relieved him of his closer duties in early July.
Since then, Jimenez has put up respectable numbers in long and spot relief. Speier has pitched well in the closer role, but there has been a dearth of save situations for the Rockies lately, so it’s difficult to tell if Speier can continue his success or if Clint Hurdle will return to Jimenez at the first sign of trouble. Jimenez’s secondary numbers look fairly similar to his previous successful seasons, but with a precipitous decline in strikeout rate and a slightly higher walk rate. He’s still one of the most extreme groundball pitchers in the league, a talent that should increase his longevity in the higher altitudes.
His season is starting to sound more and more like Keith Foulke‘s 2002 when he was relieved of his closer duties after a rough month or two only to pitch extremely well in middle relief to close out the season. This season is Jimenez’s sixth in the majors, making him an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Rockies signed him a one-year, $3.6M deal to avoid arbitration last spring. If Jimenez’s loss of his closer duties sinks his market value, the Rockies could prove to be the long-term winners by keeping Jimenez in town for a little less money. Jimenez is no Foulke, though, so losing him to a team that overpays for relievers wouldn’t be the end of the world, especially considering how well the rest of the bullpen is pitching.
New York Mets
- Outstanding Performer: Steve Trachsel isn’t someone you’d expect to make history, but on August 18 against the Rockies, he turned in the second one-hitter of his career. Trachsel faced just 29 batters, giving up only a double to opposing pitcher Chin-Hui Tsao, a line drive over Timo Perez‘s head that might have been fielded had Perez been playing at his normal depth.
This wasn’t a no-no from the Nolan Ryan playbook. Trachsel struck out just three batters and walked none, relying on his defense for 24 of the 27 outs. That’s Trachsel’s modus operandi: he has just 81 strikeouts in 163 2/3 innings this year, the lowest rate (4.45 per 9 IP) of his career. He’s getting the job done because the Mets, not a good defensive team, are allowing just a .275 average on balls in play when he pitches, lowest of any Mets starter.
Trachsel’s other one-hitter came in 1996 against the Astros at the Astrodome.
- A Reason to Believe: With any hope of making the playoffs gone in a hail of injuries, firings, trades and disappointing performances, the Mets should be commended for not folding the tent. They’ve been among the hottest teams in baseball in August, winning ten of their last 13 games and, at 14-8, are in line to have their best month of the season.
The run has largely been fueled by the same pitchers whose inability to live up to their salaries helped doom the team in the first half. Tom Glavine has a 1.05 ERA in four starts; Al Leiter is at 2.74 in his four, and Trachsel has an ERA of 1.51 in five outings. Skeptics will point out that the Mets have seen a lot of the Padres, Dodgers and RoadRockies of late, but let’s face it: this franchise hasn’t had much to cheer about since October 2000, and its fans have the right to give skeptics the finger.
The moundwork by the veterans has been nice, but at the plate, it’s all about the kids. Well, at least Jose Reyes, who has been improving steadily since his call-up in June. He’s at .379/.432/.506 in August, with eight walks and 12 strikeouts in 87 at-bats. That’s a far cry from the player whose plate discipline had been going backwards for two seasons, and who, just six weeks ago, looked like he was being rushed.
- Under the Knife: Cliff Floyd, who played very well with little fanfare, shut himself down after Trachsel’s one-hitter. He’ll undergo surgery August 29 to lesson the friction on his Achilles tendon, with an eye towards being competely healthy for spring training. Floyd finishes the season with a .290/.376/.518 line and a .310 Equivalent Average (EqA) that ranks fourth among National League left fielders.