Monday, April 30, 2007

April's NL power rankings

Below you'll see my first batch of rankings for the season. The last two years, we did these on Sundays in the print editions of The Times. Now I've decided to cut back and do them at the end of each month. Here goes the National League.

1. Atlanta -- Don't the Hawks wish they could rebound like this.
2. New York -- Everyone thought the Mets had rotation worries. Thank you, John Maine.
3. Los Angeles -- The best of a bad lot out West, but then again, so is the rest of the NL.
4. Milwaukee -- Not a misprint. Of course they started fast last year, too.
5. Arizona -- Snakes alive! The Baby Backs are winning all kinds of games all kinds of ways.
6. San Diego -- You won't find many Padres fans around here after the Todd Walker situation.
7. San Francisco -- The NL's version of the Angels in terms of streakability.
8. Florida -- A bit of regression is to be expected from this youth-laden club.
9. Philadelphia -- "Team to beat" has beat itself up early.
10. Pittsburgh -- Torres has remarkably resilient right arm.
11. Cincinnati -- Dunn still all-or-nothing hitter.
12. Houston -- Welcome to the Show, Hunter Pence. Now go save the Astros.
13. Chicago -- Piniella must be pondering his decision to take this job.
14. St. Louis -- Kip Wells Experience not joyful for Redbirds.
15. Colorado -- One day it will click for the Rockies.
16. Washington -- Not as bad as first thought, but still awful.

April's AL power rankings

In less than an hour, April becomes May and the first month of the Major League Baseball season will be a memory. With that being said, I'm going to take a stab at ranking the teams, like I used to do the last two years in The Times. Here's the American League version.
1. Boston -- 5-1 against New York, atop the AL East and Manny's not even hitting yet.
2. Los Angeles -- Sure the Angels are streaky, but they ended April on a hot streak.
3. Cleveland -- Not so sure they totally remade the bullpen, but the lineup is rocking again.
4. Detroit -- Just wait till Sheffield turns it on.
5. Minnesota -- Ditto for Santana.
6. Toronto -- Jays already near their health insurance deductible.
7. Chicago -- Buehrle has April's most memorable moment.
8. Seattle -- Perfectly mediocre is actually an improvement in the Northwest.
9. Oakland -- Not so much by the Bay.
10. Baltimore -- O's are off to a better-than-expected start.
11. Tampa Bay -- Young hitters are making up for other shortcomings.
12. Texas -- Murphy's Law already leasing in Arlington.
13. New York -- Sorry, can't quite put the $200 million disappointment dead last.
14. Kansas City -- Maybe Meche was a good sign after all.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Weekend wrap

Another weekend of college baseball has come and gone. What did we learn?

We learned Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State can rebound. Both teams dropped Friday night games before winning the next two in pivotal conference series. It's not a pattern either team wants to follow, but college baseball is all about winning series.

We learned LSU is a big tease. Just when the Tigers look to have put their youthful indiscretions behind them, they pop up again. Take Sunday. LSU uses a six-run fifth to erase a five-run deficit. Four innings later, the Tigers are saddled with an extra-inning loss. Too bad Paul Mainieri can't clone Jared Bradford.

We learned Centenary still needs to learn how to close. The Gents were 2-0 at the midpoint of their weekend series at Western Illinois. Two more one-run losses and the Gents left Macomb, Ill., with a 3-5 Mid-Con mark. One-run defeats have been the Gents' cross to bear this year and, should Ed McCann's team figure it out, they could make a run at the Mid-Con tourney title.

Finally, we learned college baseball season in Louisiana may end earlier than usual this year. With Tulane's struggles -- six straight conference defeats -- Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Lafayette are carrying the flag for the state. Tech is in second place in the WAC while the Cajuns lead the Sun Belt Conference by two games. ULL's RPI checked in at 19th in the country on Wednesday, making the Cajuns a likely at-large team if the regionals began today.

Tech, on the other hand, is probably staring at a WAC Tournament title-or-bust scenario as the Bulldogs' RPI is at 114 as of Wednesday.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Panic time already?

Here it is, not even May, and already major league teams have pushed the panic button.

The New York Yankees started the trend in the middle of the week, announcing they would promote star prospect Phillip Hughes from Triple-A. Then the Los Angeles Angels promoted the nearly as-hyped Brandon Wood to try to inject life into their struggling offense.

Finally, on Friday, the Houston Astros completed the panic trifecta, promoting Hunter Pence from Triple-A Round Rock.

Why the panic? There are still 130-140 games left in the season at this point. No one, and I mean no one, writes off the sesason on May 1. OK, maybe the Kansas City Royals, but no one else.

Heck, the Astros should know better than anyone that you can't completely bury yourself in April and May. Sometimes, you can't bury yourself in June as Houston fans found out in 2004 and 2005.

I understand the thought process of wanting to win now, but why promote these guys now? If they're better than the options you as a team currently have, why not just bring them with you out of spring training instead of giving your fans the fear that you've already begun to panic?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Same old Wells

And I mean that in a good way.

For those who knew Jim Wells when he was coaching at Loyola College Prep or down at Northwestern State, they would recognize the man who tossed one of his weekend starters off the Alabama Crimson Tide roster.

To Wells, discipline and staying on the straight and narrow are tantamount to the Ten Commandments. So when senior right-hander Bernard Robert broke a team record, Wells dismissed him from the team.

In a short release on the Crimson Tide's Web site, Wells said, "He broke team rules. That's all that needs to be said. " Vintage Wells.

And, for the record, this isn't just another arm Wells took off the roster. This was a senior who had helped pitch the Crimson Tide to an SEC co-championship a year ago. Robert wasn't having the greatest season in the world, but for an Alabama team fighting for an SEC Tournament berth, losing his presence and experience could be a death knell.

Just know that Jim Wells has reason -- and the moral high ground -- to fall on that sword.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wrong place, wrong time

Poor Doug Mirabelli. That's twice now he's been thrown under the carpet.

Last season, Kevin Towers, the San Diego general manager, took a shot at Mirabelli, a former Shreveport Captain, a couple months after trading him to Boston.

Now Gary Thorne misinterprets something Mirabelli said and turns it into a national story. In case you missed it, Thorne said Mirabelli told him the blood on Curt Schilling's sock during Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS was not blood. It was some other substance.

On Thursday, Thorne recanted his statement, saying he mistook Mirabelli's sarcasm for something else. For a backup catcher, whose most marketable trait is catching Tim Wakefield's knuckleball, Mirabelli has been caught up in a relative ton of hot water lately.

And very little of it is of his own doing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Announcers gone wild

Saw something tonight I never want to see again -- two shirtless television announcers. For those who didn't see it, consider yourself lucky. Or if your a masochist, I'm sure it will be on Youtube soon enough.

Anyway, the cornea-scratching moment came during the seventh inning stretch of Wednesday's Texas-Cleveland game at chilly Jacobs Field. Tom Grieve, who has done a little bit of everything for the Rangers, said during the stretch he was going to mock some of the Cleveland fans, who are apparently impervious to sub-40 degree temperatures. As a Southern boy, I am not.

So when the FSN cameras cut back to Grieve and Josh Lewin after a brief commercial break, both announcers were topless. Yep, 40 degrees and nary a shirt between the two.

I know the Rangers are bad this season but there isn't enough dead air out there to warrant doing that ever again.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Life comes at you quick

You know the insurance commercials that use the above headline as a tagline?

If you don't, just ask Randy Johnson and David Wells. Less than three seasons ago, I was out in San Diego for a vacation and to do a story on former Northwestern State pitcher Brian Lawrence, who was thriving with the Padres.

The last night I was in town I got a seat in the left-field bleachers at then-new Petco Park to watch Johnson and Wells duel in downtown San Diego.

The pitching matchup was worth it as the game went into extra innings. Terrence Long, himself an alumni of the 1994 MLB Draft like Shreveport-Bossier's own Todd Walker, won the game with a walk-off home run off the right-field foul poll.

Now, however, Wells and Johnson are far from dominant. As I type this, the San Diego-Arizona game, which opened with a Wells-Johnson matchup, is in the top of the 6th inning, San Diego leading 6-5. Johnson didn't make it to the sixth and I'm not sure Wells will either.

As Johnson and Wells ride slowly into the sunset, we can only look back at the gritty competitors they once were.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Bad sign for Rangers, part II at least

We're all of 20 or so games into the Major League Baseball season and already the Texas Rangers are seeing a disturbing trend.

They can't beat the Seattle Mariners.

Nothing against Seattle, but if Texas wants to compete in the AL West, it better figure out Ichiro and Co. Winning division games has become more and more important since the implementation of the unbalanced schedule.

Look at the AL West last year. Think Oakland would have won the division if it hadn't won 16 of 18 games from Seattle? Ha, hardly. Yes, the Rangers took two of three from Oakland over the weekend, but another loss to Seattle was hardly the way to maintain momentum, no matter how early in the season.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Weekend wrap

Another week of college baseball has come and gone. What did we learn?

We learned Northwestern State still owns brooms. It wasn't the prettiest sweep ever, but the Demons got three very important victories over Nicholls State.

We learned Tulane isn't infallable. Not that the Wave ever claimed to be, but getting swept at home removes some aura.

We learned the road isn't kind to teams who load up on a heavy home schedule. That's you, Centenary. Playing road games No. 6, 7, 8 and 9 on the season, the Gents suffered road losses Nos. 6, 7 and 8 against Valparaiso.

We learned Louisiana Tech's trip to paradise was anything but spectacular. The Dogs lost two of three and their outright lead in the WAC. Thankfully Brian Rike delivered the biggest save of the weekend, closing out Saturday's win after homering earlier in it.

Finally, we learned Paul Mainieri is a pretty good mad scientist (and not-too-shabby a baseball coach.) He's found a way to maximize the talent in a roster he inherited in complete shambles. Thanks to a guy who loves to hit in the clutch (Michael Hollander) and a guy who can pitch anywhere (Jared Bradfor) , the Tigers took two of three from Mississippi State on the weekend and you can just about paint the Tigers in Birmingham (Sorry, Tracy Lawrence fans, I've been waiting to use that line for a while) and the SEC Tournament.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Good move by Selig

Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has been raked over the coals for numerous decisions he has made during his time as baseball's top executive. The questions and head scratches have been deserved for many of them.

But you have to give credit where it is due and Selig made the right decision when it came to Joe Saunders on Friday night. Saunders, a left-handed pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, is the majors' only player from Virginia Tech. Friday was his first start since Monday's shooting rampage on campus.

Several teams already had paid their respects to the victims by the time Saunders took the mound in Orange County. The Washington Nationals all wore VT hats on Tuesday and the Boston Red Sox had black "VT" patches on their hats and jerseys Friday night.

Two hours before Saunders' start, Selig informed him he could wear a VT hat during his start against Seattle. It was the right move on Selig's part given Saunders' history with the school. He pitched three years for the Hokies and wound up as one of the school's most winningest pitchers. His father and uncles attened Virginia Tech. He is the one major leaguer with tangible ties to the school.

For all the bad decisions Selig has made, this was one he couldn't afford to miss. And both he and Saunders were on the money Friday night.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Baseball helps Va. Tech return to normal

Virginia Tech's baseball program isn't among the elite in the country. Miami is suffering through a season of unmet expectations. These teams met at English Field in Blacksburg, Va., on Friday night and a stadium-record 3,132 fans witnessed it.

Miami walked away a winner as a potential game-tying home run in the ninth was snagged at the wall, leaving the Hokies on the short end of an 11-9 score.

But (cliche alert) the real winners were the Virginia Tech students and the Blacksburg community. After Monday's rampage that left 32 students and a student gunman dead, Friday's game again showed the healing power of sports, especially at the college level. Few things on a college campus mean as much to the student body as a sporting event. Few things can bring together such a collage of students together like sports.

Think back to the Texas A&M bonfire. The University of Texas cancelled its annual Hex Rally and both student communities bonded before the annual rivalry game. Even more recently, think of how LSU football brought people together after the horrors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Sure college sports has become big business and lost a bit of its soul, but it still has healing powers on campuses across the country.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Paying attention to the past

Part of the reason I love my job is the people I've been able to meet and grow closer to through work. One of those people is Houston Astros scout James Farrar, known simply as Coach to most people.

I was speaking with Coach Farrar this afternoon to add a little background to the Louisiana Tech story in Friday's times or here. During the course of our little talk, Coach said something that struck me.

He had been invited to throw out the first pitch at Louisiana Tech's midweek game against Grambling State on April 10. Coach never got into if he threw a strike, but he did pass along the gesture the Bulldogs' players offered him.

As he walked off the mound, Tech coach Wade Simoneaux grabbed him by the arm and told him his players would like to shake Farrar's hand. I'm not sure how many of them knew how many players Farrar had signed while with the Astros or understood how he landed two aces for the Houston franchise (J.R. Richard and Roy Oswalt).

What I am sure of is that it's nice to see younger players have respect for someone who came before them and was so influential to so many who were in the shoes the Tech athletes currently are in.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Buehrle 1, Karma 0

Late in the broadcast of the Texas-Chicago White Sox game Wednesday night, FSN's Josh Lewin brought up the story of how White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle accused the Rangers of cheating in a game a couple of seasons ago in Arlington.

Nothing ever came of it, but Buerhle exacted his revenge on the Rangers on Wednesday night, tossing his first career no-hitter. Along the way there were the requisite no-hitter-saving defensive plays from Joe Crede, Jermaine Dye and others, but it was Buehrlle who did the heavy lifting.

And given the animosity that seemed to exist between the Rangers and the left-hander, it appears Buehrle not only denied Texas' powerful lineup a hit, he also kept the baseball gods at bay during one of the most incredible feats a pitcher can produce.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Not so bad now

Remember way way back in February when the temperatures were cold and LSU was even colder?

Well one of the series the Tigers lost in that time was to Stetson. No not the hat-making company that rests on the heads of numerous country music stars.

Stetson University is in DeLand, Fla., (hometown of Chipper Jones) and the Hatters could make life much better for the Tigers in the comings weeks.

Given the NCAA baseball selection committee's reliance on RPI numbers, LSU could stand to gain from Stetson winning games. So far so good as the Hatters are now 30-10 and knocking on the door of the Top 25. Stetson has racked up a fair number of its wins against lower-level teams but also owns victories over Notre Dame and Florida, which bodes well for its RPI.

And for the Tigers as well.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tech back in the awards business

Louisiana Tech is back in the WAC awards business.

If you recall, earlier in the season it was all Tech all the time when it came to the WAC's weekly baseball awards. Well after a short break Dylan Moseley gave Tech another win this week, picking up the conference's Pitcher of the Week honor.

Moseley and Tech are back in action in a key three-game series at Hawaii this weekend. The Bulldogs hold a tenuous one-game lead over Fresno State at the midway part of conference play and a good showing on the island will go a long way toward not only a possible WAC championship, but, dare I say, an at-large NCAA Tournament bid.

Last season, the WAC was a two-bid league. Hawaii was one of those two teams. The Warriors aren't having the season they did last year, but a series win on the island would be quite an accomplishment for the Bulldogs.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Touching remembrance means keep going

The Jackie Robinson Day celebration at Dodger Stadium on Sunday night reminded us of one thing -- what Jackie Robinson stood for should still be remembered and acted upon today.

While Robinson's breaking the color barrier was a symbol of race relations -- or the lack of in that time -- Robinson the man was about equality and opportunity for people.

Not black people. Not white people. Not Asian people. Not Latin people. Just people.

The courage to stand for something you believe in, and the strength to maintain that conviction, is what Jackie Robinson the athlete and the man was about. If there is one way to preserve Robinson's memory, it is to act the way he did and the way his widow, Rachel, has since Robinson's death in 1972.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Athletes say the darndest things

Forgive Ole Miss shortstop Zack Cozart for having a Manny Ramirez moment this week. Entering this weekend's series against LSU, Cozart said the Rebels were thinking sweep.

Sorry, Zack, this is the SEC. For the most part, teams don't sweep at HOME, let alone on the road in one of the most tradition-laden parks in the country. Yeesh.

That's what college is for, though. You get out, well in theory, you get out the silly mistakes and slips of the tongue you wouldn't normally use in your adult life. It's just good to see that it works for college athletics as well as general college behavior.

-- It's Bizarro Weekend for the Northwestern State Demons so far. Ace Jimmy Heard gets rocked on Friday night by Texas-San Antonio in an 11-3 loss.

That brings us to Saturday. In their first four Southand Conference series, NSU was 0-4 in the second game, including some really ugly losses. So what happens Saturday? NSU shuts down the SLC's best team record-wise, beating the Roadrunners 5-1. Go figure.

Looks like the remnants of Friday the 13th were still kicking around San Antonio.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Catching up with a former Captain

Great story on about former Shreveport Captain Salomon Torres written by Tim Kurkjian.

Stories like these are what makes the loss of affiliated professional baseball the toughest to take. Yes it's been five years and, yes, you could make the argument I should let it die, but I'm not going to. Growing up and being able to go see future major leaguers before they become stars is something I'll always remember. Fair Grounds Field on a summer night when the Captains were in town was special.

Now it's been gone five years and probably won't be back for a long time because of geographical constraints and other factors, but seeing a Torres or a Rich Aurilia or other former Caps still bouncing around does bring back good feelings.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tech out for revenge

Louisiana Tech's emotions will be tested this weekend and it will be of utmost importance the Bulldogs keep theirs in check.

Tech travels west to Sacramento, Calif., starting Friday for a three-game Western Athletic Conference series and you can bet Wade Simoneaux's team has payback on its mind. The Bulldogs share the WAC lead, but the Hornets already own a series win over the Dawgs at Ruston's J.C. Love Field.

That was in March when Tech was going through a bit of a funk. Now the Bulldogs have rediscovered their confidence, but it takes only one bad weekend to sink a team and, right now, the Bulldogs have to avoid that at all costs.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

No room for Baker?

Scott Baker probably would be the first to tell you his spring training numbers weren't what he wanted them to be. But after watching Sidney Ponson get tattooed by the New York Yankees on Monday and seeing Minnesota give up double-digit runs the next night, it's hard to believe Baker couldn't do any better than those guys.

Before anyone lables me a homer, know that Baker was 2-0 against the Yankees last season. Granted one of those games was played in far-from-perfect hitting conditions but a win's a win. Ramon Ortiz and Ponson have longer track records of success in the big leagues, but it's hard to see Minnesota doing much with them -- especially Ponson -- in the back of its rotation.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hope springs eternal in the ATL

Welcome back, Tim Hudson. We've missed you.

As the Atlanta Braves and their fans try to get over the shock of losing Mike Hampton to another elbow surgery, they can take hope in a, however brief, renaissance from Mr. Hudson.

Prior to his trade to Atlanta between the 2004 and 2005 seasons, Hudson was as dominant a starter as their was in baseball. He won 92 games and lost 39 in Oakland. With free agency looming, the A's sent Hudson home. Home to Atlanta, 1 hour away from Hudson's college home of Auburn.

Two of my buddies and myself saw one of Hudson's first starts in a Braves uniform in April 2005. He won that game, 11-1, but something my friend Phil said stuck out. He came away unimpressed with Hudson and that became a label that stuck with the Georgia-born, Alabama-bred right-hander.

Now, throughout spring training and his first couple of regular season starts, it appears Hudson is back on track. And for Braves' fans who saw an Atlanta-free postseason for the first time in 15 years it's coming not a moment too soon.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Astros finally dump Lidge

OK so Brad Lidge is still a Houston Astro. But at least he's not closing. Heck Phil Garner didn't even pitch him in the seventh or eighth inning Monday at Chicago.

This is a very proactive approach by Garner, but it's one he needs to stick with until new closer Dan Wheeler falters. Garner tried removing Lidge from the ninth inning on at least two occasions last year only to keep going back to Lidge about 48 hours later.

Wheeler has been a solid, solid setup man the last 2-plus seasons. This is the perfect time to see what kind of cajones Wheeler has and how his slider holds up.

At the very least it's seven games into the season. Maybe Lidge finds himself and the Astros can salvage something from him, either via trade or actual performance.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

LSU's Mainieri has interesting ways

First things first, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri is hamstrung with his pitching staff. Former coach Smoke Laval did Mainieri no favors when it came to leaving quality arms in Baton Rouge.

But if anyone can explain to me exactly what Mainieri's rationale has been with his rotation in conference play, please tell me. After Charlie Furbush on Friday nights, the next two games of the series have been started by seemingly anyone and everyone on the LSU staff.

Granted, Mainieri wanted to have Jared Bradford, who is the Tigers' best arm and so far savior, in the bullpen to close out games. That plan has been scuttled and then some. Bradford has pitched on Saturdays and Sundays and has been LSU's most reliable starter since the not-so-distant days of Nate Bumstead and Greg Smith.

Mainieri isn't pitching with a full deck, but his decisions have left several, if not many, LSU observers shaking their heads. It's time LSU settles on a conference rotation and gives itself a better chance to keep its perfect attendance mark at the SEC Tournament intact.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Calvary-Shreve game was an event

OK, so the matchup of Austin Ross and Randy Zeigler didn't produce as many goose-eggs as we thought we'd see.

In hindsight, everyone who thought along the same pattern as myself -- great pitcher's duel -- shorted the Calvary and Shreve offenses. But the story of the game was probably the atmosphere.

It was COLD Sunday. Bone-chilling cold, especially for an April Saturday. But there was one of the biggest crowds to see a high school baseball game in recent memory huddled around Gator Field. The throng was two-deep down the fences and got to see one of the better regular-season games you'll see.

Calvary and Zeigler battled all day, trading punches with Ross and his more experienced Gators mates. In the end, the experience paid off as Captain Shreve senior Clint Ewing snapped a late tie with the game-winning hit.

Speaking of experience, Calvary will be the better for this game, especially when playoff time rolls around. The Cavaliers won't see an arm like Ross' in Class 1A and they have the next closest one in Zeigler.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Middle game not good for Demons

The Northwestern State Demons aren't doing a good job in the middle.

Not the middle infield, not the middle of the diamond, just the middle game of Southland Conference series. Even in a week where the middle game was Friday, NSU's bugaboo struck again.

This time the Demons carried a 7-1 lead late into the game against Stephen F. Austin only to see it end in a 13-8 defeat. With 10 SLC games in the books, NSU is in dire need of figuring out its Saturday situation.

However, inspiration is just a short walk from Brown-Stroud Field. Remember Mike McConathy's basketball team hit a skid for a while and rebounded to win the SLC East Division. Is something like that in store for Mitch Gaspard and Co.? Only time will tell. Well time and some improved starting pitching depth.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Early start to the weekend

What do you know, baseball teams in the Bible Belt not playing on Easter?

It's going to happen this year. Both Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State started conference series on Thursday to avoid playing on Sunday. So far the good religious karma is on the side of the Bulldogs and Demons as their pitchers staked them to 1-0 series leads.

Former Airline High standout Jimmy Heard continued to impress in Natchitoches, silencing Stephen F. Austin in NSU's win. Heard has been the key to the Demons in conference. Tech, meanwhile, got 14 strikeouts in a dominating performance by Luke Burnett.

It goes without saying both teams need their aces to be aces down the stretch and it seems Heard and Burnett, both sophomore right-handers, are figuring that out. That in itself bodes well for NSU and Tech.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

So much for Matthews' distractions

It has been a buzzworthy couple of months for former Texas Ranger Gary Matthews Jr.

First there was the five-year, $50 million contract he landed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Then a couple of weeks ago there was the fallout from the HGH scandal.

Now it's time for baseball and, for Matthews, nothing could be better. He said he wouldn't let the off-field distractions bother him and in the Angels' three-game sweep of Texas he didn't.

Twice during the series he scaled the center field wall to take away extra-base hits from two of his ex-teammates Michael Young and Mark Teixeira, showing the athletic prowess Rangers fans came to know and love the last 1 1/2 seasons. Matthews may not match the numbers he put up with Texas last season, but for someone who seems to be a standup guy, it's good to see him start on the right track.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Astros need to cut ties with Lidge

Let me start this blog by saying Brad Lidge has been a stand-up guy throughout his 3-plus seasons in the big leagues. By all accounts, he is a perfect fit for the Astros clubhouse -- professional, accountable, humble.

That being said, it's time for Lidge to leave Houston on the next Continental Airlines flight. Lidge, whose spring training ERA was awful, got off on the wrong foot Monday, giving up a two-out, game-tying home run in Houston's 4-2 10-inning loss to Pittsburgh. So much for a clean slate.

Manager Phil Garner has vigorously defended Lidge as his closer and owner Drayton McClane loves his "brand" guys -- players who can be easily recognized as Astros. Guys like Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Lance Berkman. Lidge seemed to be on that track in 2005 when his crisp fastball and devastating slider made life miserable for opposing batters and pushed the Astros to their first World Series. That fall, though, Albert Pujols and Scott Podsednik delivered psyche-crushing homers off Lidge. He hasn't been the same since.

Now it's time for Houston to cut ties with its once unhittable closer and do the honorable thing by both parties. The Astros have been burned too many times by Lidge and it's clear the former first-round pick needs a change of scenery. At this point, the smart business decision is to trade Lidge, feelings be darned.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Baseball's back

Opening day is here. Thank goodness.

Nothing against March Madness (especially considering my bracket held this year), but April is always a welcome sight for me. Kind of my own personal Christmas.

It's fitting that outside the temperature is pushing 87 degrees. There's baseball on TV all day long and, oh by the way, the NCAA basketball championship is on tonight.

Could there be a better day to be a sports fan? I don't think so.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Weekend wrap

The third weekend of conference play has come and gone. What did we learn?

Well, we learned LSU has quite a bit of heart, even if the talent is lacking. Michael Hollander delivered in a big way on Friday night and Ryan Byrd gave the Tigers what they needed -- a strong Sunday start in the SEC. The climb is nowhere near over for Paul Mainieri and Co., but they're headed in the right direction.

We learned Louisiana Tech is still up and down. This weekend was up, next weekend we'll have to see.

We learned LSUS is still flying under the radar. The Pilots swept three from Spring Hill and again look to be the class of the GCAC.

Finally we learned the good old Times jinx is alive and well. Sorry Jimmy Heard. Heard was the subject of a story in Thursday's Times. On Friday, he was on the wrong end of a 4-0 shutout.