• C.C. Sabathia is proving an old saying wrong. Though it sometimes may be better to be lucky than good, the Indians left-hander and ace of a disparate starting rotation has been both this season. Sabathia ranks second in the major leagues among starting pitchers in LUCK at 5.84, trailing only Boston’s Josh Beckett (6.81). However, Sabathia has also been good. His VORP is 21.5, ninth in the American League, and he has a 9-1 record with a 3.40 ERA through 13 starts and 90 innings.

    while right-hander Fausto Carmona has emerged after a rocky rookie season in 2005, Sabathia is clearly considered the leader of a rotation that has been good enough to put Cleveland atop the AL Central standings with a 37-23 record, 2 ½ games in front of Detroit, but also poor enough in spots to cause concerns that the Indians can stay there the rest of the season.

    “I came into the season knowing I had to be ‘The Man’ if we were going to go to the playoffs,” Sabathia said. “We’re a good team and I really believe it’s our time to make the playoffs. All playoff teams need that No. 1 starter and that’s been my goal since the first day of spring training. I’ve been here the longest and I’m the one who should step up and take responsibility.”

    Though Sabathia is only 26, he is in his seventh season with the Indians, and coming off of a career-best year in 2006, when he was 12-11 with a 3.22 ERA and a 46.5 VORP in 192 innings. However, it was the fifth straight non-playoff season for the Indians since 2001, a season in which Sabathia won 17 games as a rookie. Last year was especially disappointing for the Indians, as they finished 74-88 a year after being eliminated from the race on the final day.

    The frustration of last year’s setback has helped drive Sabathia to raise his performance in 2007. He showed what he is capable of in his previous start on Tuesday night when he threw his fifth career shutout, a five-hitter in a taut 1-0 victory over Kansas City and Jorge De La Rosa. “He showed why he’s a No. 1 starter with this type of performance in this type of game,” Indians manager Eric Wedge.

    Carmona has also pitched like a staff ace a year after going 1-10 with a 5.42 ERA in 74 2/3 innings. Carmona is eighth in the AL with a SNLVAR of 2.3 to go with a 7-1 record and 3.11 ERA in 75 1/3 innings. Veteran right-hander Paul Byrd has also been solid, going 6-2 with a 3.80 ERA in 64 innings. However, left-handers Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers are having disastrous seasons-Lee is 2-4 with a 6.31 ERA in 45 2/3 innings, and Sowers is 1-6 with a 6.93 ERA in 62 1/3 innings.

    “We need to get them both going, to give us a chance to win games,” Wedge said. “Both have had success here before. We need to get them back on track. They’re not working ahead in the count enough. They need to use their fastballs better. Both of them are very capable of giving us quality starts, but ultimately they are the ones who have to bow their necks and do it. They need to look in the mirror and go out there and get it done.”

    Furthermore, right-hander Jake Westbrook, signed to a three-year, $33-million contract extension during the first week of the season has been limited to only six starts and 27 1/3 innings because of a strained side muscle. Westbrook has been on the Disabled List since May 3, but is expected to be activated this week.

    Still, the Indians have the third-best record in baseball, behind only Boston (40-21) and Los Angeles Angels (40-23). That’s due in no small part to 6-foot-7, 290-pound Sabathia.

  • Now that Roger Clemens has returned to action for the Yankees, look for him and the Arizona DiamondbacksRandy Johnson to play a game of leapfrog for the second spot behind Nolan Ryan on baseball’s all-time strikeouts list. Clemens raised his total to 4,611 by striking out seven Pittsburgh batters in a win on Saturday; Johnson goes into today’s start against Boston with 4,605.

    “To put myself where he [Clemens] is at right now, with 1,000 less innings, I think that says a little about what I’ve accomplished in my career,” Johnson told the East Valley Tribune. Clemens has pitched 4,823 1/3 innings; Johnson has worked 3,846 1/3. When Johnson pitched for the Diamondbacks from 1999-2003, there was a board in left-center field at Chase Field that tracked where the Big Unit stood on the all-time strikeouts list. “It was pretty cool to see when I’d move past someone,” Johnson said. “Warren Spahn. (Sandy) Koufax. (Steve) Carlton. It’s obviously very flattering to be in that company.” Ryan will be hard to pass, though-his record is 5,714.

  • San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman started his own one-man fraternity this past Wednesday-the 500-save club. He became the first to reach 500 career saves with a scoreless ninth inning to close out a 5-2 victory over the Dodgers. “Five hundred, God almighty I don’t even have 500 appearances,” Padres reliever Doug Brocail, who has pitched in 492 games in a career that started in 1992, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I never thought Lee Smith‘s record would be broken, but Trevor did it last year. I’d like to see Hoffy get 600. He’s gotten this far. Why not add a century?”

    Padres General Manager Kevin Towers didn’t see Hoffman’s historic save. In the 1998 postseason, Towers began a tradition of not watching Hoffman in order not to jinx him. The only exception Towers made was last year, when he watched on television as Hoffman entered the ninth inning of the All-Star Game to protect a one-run National League lead-and he blew the save by surrendering a game-winning two-run triple to Texas’ Michael Young. “I just told Hoffy it’s the greatest 500th save I’ve never seen,” Towers cracked.

  • Luis Castillo’s streak of major league-record 143 consecutive games without an error at second base ended Wednesday night. The play? The Twin mishandled shortstop Jason Bartlett‘s throw on what appeared to be a double-play ball off the bat of the Angels’ Vladimir Guerrero. “It was an easy play, and something happened,” Castillo said. Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg held the record with 123 consecutive games, so Castillo beat it by 20.

    “I told him, ‘Hey, man, that’s an unbelievable record’ and it’s now kind of a monkey off his back,” Twins third baseman Nick Punto told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “He doesn’t have to think about it. It’s hard not to think about it when people are talking about it all the time. It’s an amazing feat, and I don’t think it will be broken.”

    While reluctant to talk during the streak, Castillo admitted it was special. “I feel happy and I feel proud of myself,” Castillo said. “That’s a long time.”

  • From the rumor mill: Look for Texas to make relievers Eric Gagne and Akinori Otsuka available as the Rangers fall further out of the AL West race. Atlanta and Detroit are said to have strong interest in both. Braves left-hander Mike Gonzalez is done for the year after elbow surgery, and Tiger flame-thrower Joel Zumaya might be, too, following finger surgery. … The Tigers are willing to trade left-hander Mike Maroth in a deal for relief help. … Though Chicago Cubs right-hander Carlos Zambrano and catcher Michael Barrett have kissed and made up after their dugout altercation of nine days ago, it would not be a surprise to see both traded as they are eligible for free agency after the season. That four-year, $72-million contract extension that the Cubs and Zambrano all but agreed to in April now officially appears dead with The Tribune Company up for sale. … The Cubs are also making outfielder Jacque Jones available as rookie Felix Pie seems to have a hammerlock on the center field job. … The Chicago White Sox were reportedly willing to trade Jermaine Dye to the Yankees for Bobby Abreu in a swap of outfielders who can become free agents at the end of the season. However, the Yankees had no interest. … If the Angels decide to upgrade their offense, they will look to make a move for a third baseman, with Baltimore’s Melvin Mora, Colorado’s Garrett Atkins, and Houston’s Morgan Ensberg at the top of their wish list. … Though Dmitri Young has been a successful reclamation project filling in for injured first baseman Nick Johnson, Washington is willing to trade him for prospects. … Tampa Bay is reportedly trying hard to trade troubled center fielder Elijah Dukes. However, it is questionable whether any team will bite after he was accused of threatening to kill his wife and their two children last month. … Though the Devil Rays have yet to change their losing ways, they will change their name (dropping Devil and becoming just the Rays) and colors (from green and black to blue and yellow) next season, with an official announcement coming in October.

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