Sunday, September 30, 2007

End of an era

Part of me felt old Sunday.

That part was the part that still remembers watching Atlanta Braves baseball on WTBS, now simply TBS. And I don't mean in the years of 14 straight division titles either.

I mean the years where Dale Murphy was the only good thing the Braves had going. The days when a young Tom Glavine was unknown and John Smoltz and Greg Maddux had yet to arrive at Fulton County Stadium.

That era ended today when the Houston Astros defeated Atlanta in the last Braves game with TBS as a major media outlet for the Braves.

After this season, TBS' baseball coverage goes national. No more 6:35 p.m. local time games. No more watching Otis Nixon morph into Andruw Jones or Dale Murphy become David Justice then change into Jeff Francoeur.

No longer will the Braves be America's Team on television. The groundbreaking deal between the Braves and Ted Turner's then-fledgling "superstation" is now a part of media and sports past.

And that deserves a bit of self-reflection for any child -- boy or girl -- who grew up watching the Braves and hearing Skip Caray, Pete Van Wieren and Ernie Johnson describe the action.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

One to go

Do or die. For all the marbles. Win or go home.

Throw any cliche out there you'd like and it will stick for Sunday when it comes to Major League Baseball.

Four National League teams are battling for two playoff spots in a race that may take until Tuesday or Wednesday to decide pending the outcome of Sunday's action.

For the record, I still like Philly to win the East but I'm not sure my pick of Colorado to win the NL wild card is that steady. The Rox need a win and some help from Milwaukee to make it happen.

This week, however, we've already seen how anything can happen, so Colorado fans may not want to hang their heads just yet.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Love me some MLB.TV

Major League Baseball got me.

I was one of the people who took advantage of a special year-end MLB.TV offer that allowed people to view the last 10 days to two weeks of the season via the Internet at a reduced rate.

And now I'm hooked.

The division and wild-card races have played a part, but the ability to watch any game at any time, excluding games with local blackout restrictions (Texas and Houston) is as good as it gets without ordering DirectTV's Extra Innings package.

Take last night. We had just finished putting out Friday's paper so I decided to click on the Rockies-Dodgers game. I turned up the sound and got to hear Vin Scully's dulcet tones talking baseball.

Yes it was at work. Yes it was nearly midnight. But Scully behind the mike made it feel like summer all over again.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Owings does it again

In 2005, Micah Owings used his two-way ability to make Tulane the top-ranked team in college baseball for much of the season.

That Green Wave team entered the College World Series ranked No. 1 in the country thanks in large part to Owings and Brian Bogusevic.

Now, with the major league postseason right around the corner, Owings finds himself in the spotlight again.

Owings, now a rookie pitcher with Arizona, stepped in for defending NL Cy Young winner Brandon Webb on 2 1/2 hours notice Thursday and spun 6 1-3 innings of shutout baseball against Pittsburgh to keep the Diamondbacks on top of the NL West.

And, oh by the way, the former first baseman went 4-for-4 at the plate with three doubles. It seems that when the pressure is at its highest, the Georgia boy who made a name for himself in the Big Easy is at his best.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

MLB gets one right

Go to your underground bomb shelters. Stock up on water, food, etc.

No the world isn't ending, but it may be soon. Why? Because Major League Baseball did something right when it came to an umpire vs. player issue.

MLB suspended Mike Winters, the umpire in the middle of Milton Bradley's lastest, and most unusual, meltdown, for the remainder of the season.

Winters allegedly used profanity toward Bradley and San Diego first base coach Bobby Meacham said Winters called Bradley a derogatory name.

In the ensuing scramble, Bradley tore his ACL when Padres manager Bud Black spun him down in order to keep Bradley away from Winters. Bradley is gone for the year.

Now so is Winters. That's justice.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Forgive me, I'm learning

It's funny, I never thought real baseball axioms would apply to fantasy baseball.

Oops, I was wrong.

In April, we set up a fantasy baseball league through at the office. Seven of us joined and let the Web site draft for us.

Six months later, our little league is drawing to a close and it is killing me. My offense is leading the league in batting average, runs, home runs and RBIs and is third in stolen bases. In those categories I have accumlated 33 of a possible 35 points. Good right? Yes.

But as you know there are two sides to every story. And the bad side of this story is my pitching staff. I should have renamed them the 1996 Detroit Tigers. Yeesh. I have the worst ERA by far and my WHIP is nearly the worst. I'm backsliding everywhere except saves and i'm only fifth in that category.

Anyway, the point of my little rant comes down to one measly point. That's all I trail Scott Ferrell by with five days left. ONE MEASLY POINT!!!

Oh well, guess I should have consulted all the baseball sages of the past when it came to my first fantasy entry.

Monday, September 24, 2007

NL playoff predictions

As of this posting, the American League playoffs are all but set.

The NL, however, is a totally different story.

So, with six days left in baseball's regular season, here's one man's (uneducated) guess as to how the NL postseason tournament will shake out.

NL East -- The Mets will hold off the hard-charging Phillies thanks to a generous schedule. New York faces three under-.500 teams at home while the Phillies host Atlanta and Washington.

NL Central -- The Cubs will wrap the division up by Thursday.

NL West -- Arizona should be the first NL team to clinch the division as San Diego is, cue Tom Petty, free falling.

NL Wild-Card -- The Phillies and Rockies will pass San Diego with the City of Brotherly Love earning the right to October baseball for the first time since John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, Darren Daulton and a slim Curt Schilling were rocking Veterans Stadium.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Two months later

About two months ago, I sat at Coors Field in Denver watching the homestanding Colorado Rockies take on the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I thought, at the time, I was watching a playoff team in person. I still think I'm right, just not about which team.

As the season has rolled into the final week, the Rockies look like a playoff team and the Dodgers look tired and beaten down. The team start a pivotal three-game series Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium with the Rockies' playoff hopes hanging in the balance.

If recent history is any indication, we could be looking at Mile High Madness in the playoffs for the first time since 1995.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

First to clinch

Go ahead, make fun of the Boston Red Sox for nearly squandering a 14 1/2 game lead over the New York Yankees.

You have until at least Oct. 8 or so to do it. That's because, on Saturday, Boston became the first team to qualify for Major League Baseball's postseason.

The Red Sox haven't clinched the AL East yet, but that hasn't mattered in the past. Heck, finishing the regular season strong doesn't matter. Just ask the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals or the 2005 Chicago White Sox.

All that matters now is the Red Sox have their invitation to October. Now, all the rest can be thrown out the window.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Enough with Mr. Chamberlain

OK, in case you missed it, New York Yankees rookie right-hander Joba Chamberlain is a flame-thrower, savior and all-around perfect human being.

That is if you listen to the mainstream (read New York-centric) media.

Now we get more of the Chamberlains. Joba's father, Harlan, was stricken with polio at 9 months old, is confined to a scooter and is deaf in one ear.

And he gets almost as much media attention as his son.

I wouldn't be surprised to findout the Chamberlains are good people. Anyone battling through polio and raising a child as a single parent has plenty of character.

Now, that being said, please stop with the Chamberlain lovefest. Or realize there are other stories out there as September flips to October. Focus on something other than the Yankees and the Red Sox and give baseball fans a chance to enjoy the rich tapestry of the other 28 teams in this game.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Mets melt down; apocalypse next?

Only kidding about the second part of the headline.

Right now, Willie Randolph and the New York Mets should send one big thank you card to the Bronx to thank the Yankees for putting a ton of heat on the Boston Red Sox. Otherwise, we'd all be watching the Mets melt down with greater speed than their Boston counterparts.

It happened again Thursday night. As Philadelphia rallied from a 6-2 deficit to beat Washington, the Mets blew a pair of three-run leads at Florida.

The first is understandable as New York took a 3-0 lead early in the game. The second was completely befuddling and another example of why Willie Randolph's seat is, fairly or not, getting hotter by the second.

The Mets scored four times in the ninth to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 7-4 lead. So who does Randolph send out to pitch the ninth?

All-Star closer Billy Wagner? Nope. Instead, Randolph calls on Devil Rays/Braves/Cardinals reject Jorge Sosa. Net result: Three runs and extra innings.

Then, amazingly, Randolph sticks with Sosa in the 10th inning. The 10th lasted all of two batters as Dan Uggla knocked home Hanley Ramirez, who led off with a single.

Another Mets meltdown must have this team shaking its collective head. I know I am.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Integrity issues

During Wednesday's Reds-Cubs game on ESPN, Orel Hershiser and Steve Phillips brought up an interesting topic -- the integrity of the schedule as the season winds down.

Why? Apparently, circumstances dictated the Houston Astros throw rookies on back-to-back nights against Milwaukee. No big deal, right?

Maybe in June or July it wouldn't be, but the Astros are out of the pennant race and the Brewers are slugging it out with the Cubs for the one bid that will come out of the NL Central.

The first set of circumstances -- Roy Oswalt missed Tuesday's start because his wife gave birth to the couple's second child -- could not be avoided. The second -- veteran Woody Williams' decision to pitch out of the bullpen in favor of letting the Astros' brass look at Juan Gutierrez -- could have.

Williams signed a free-agent contract for 162 games. He should live up to his end of the bargain even as horrible as he has been this season. To be fair, Astros management called their Chicago counterparts to let them know what was happening, but it's tough to believe Jim Hendry and the rest of the Chicago front office was completely happy with the happenings in Houston.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Races, races everywhere

Maybe this is just what Major League Baseball needs -- a September full of down-to-the-wire pennant races -- to draw a smidgen of attention away from football.

I know it's a long shot, but, hey, every little bit helps.

Boston's once-insurmountable lead is down to 2 1/2 games. The New York Mets are folding faster than a house of cards in a dust storm and the NL Central and NL West races have been back and forth all year long.

Once upon a time, September was the greatest month on the baseball calender. That was prior to the NFL becoming America's most popular pro sports league. Now, baseball must take what it can get.

And if it means meltdowns in two of the country's biggest media markets, then bring it on.

Monday, September 17, 2007

New curse on the block

Someone please stop the Actober madness. Yes, Actober, not October.

The television ads Major Leauge Baseball has force-fed us since the All-Star Game are fast becoming the quickest way to fall out of the playoff race.

Just ask the Milwaukee Brewers or the Chicago Cubs. Both have ads that feature a very annoying Dane Cook trying to get everyone pumped up about all things playoffs that don't include Boston or New York.

When we first saw the Brewers commercial, the Beermakers seemed a mortal lock to reach the postseason. Then along came the commercial -- and a hard-charging Cubs team -- and all of a sudden the Brewers are the '78 Red Sox.

Except MLB decided to shine the light on the Cubs. Oh boy, first the billy goat, then Steve Bartman, now this.

So, thanks to MLB, we now have an NL Central race between two teams who seem more ready to start October golf instead of October baseball.

Thanks, Dane Cook.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Strange feeling for Houston

This is the first time since 2002 the Houston Astros' games in September are totally meaningless for the home team.

Yes, the Astros play the Milwaukee Brewers in a three-game series beginning Monday, but only the Brewers could be playing in October.

As for Houston, this month has been about seeing what the future holds for the organization -- and that's a strange feeling.

Even last year, when Houston missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002, the team staged a daring late-season run that left it just short of the NL Central title.

So as late summer turns to fall, fans at Minute Maid Park won't be close to thinking of the immediate future when they look on the field. They will be forced to think about 2008 and beyond.

That's something Houston's recent success hasn't prepared them for.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Feed this Mons-tah

Only one more game to go in the 2007 Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees season series and, let me say, not a day too soon.

I like to hate on the Yankees as much as anyone, but enough is enough.

Yes, the rivalry is one of the best in sports, but near 5-hour, nine-inning games are enough to try anyone's patience, even the most ardent baseball fan.

That being said, here's hoping the Red Sox extend their lead over the Yankees to 6 1-2 games tomorrow night.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ryan steps down in Minnesota

One of baseball's longest-tenured general managers stepped down Thursday. Why should we care?

Because Terry Ryan was at the helm of the Minnesota Twins when the organization drafted the lone active Shreveport-Bossier City major leaguer and gave him his first taste of Major League Baseball.

Ryan grabbed former Captain Shreve standout Scott Baker in the second round of the 2003 draft.

Baker now is solidly in the Minnesota rotation as the 2007 season winds down.

I had a couple of conversations with Ryan while doing stories on both Baker and Todd Walker, who started his major league career with the Ryan-led Twins, and he came off as affable and, obviously, quite knowledgable.

While players win games, and managers put those players in those positions, Ryan was a major, major factor in the Twins' recent run of success. And, should the Twins decide to promote from within, taking a chance on Jim Rantz as the next Minnesota GM may not be such a bad idea.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Does anyone want the NL Central?

And the answer is ... apparently not.

You know the story by now. Milwaukee breaks from the gates and builds a big lead only to see Chicago whittle the lead down and eventually overtake the Brewers.

Well now the most mediocre division in baseball has settled into an all-too-predictable pattern. One team snaps the division tie one day only to lose the next as the other regains the tie.

The only good news for the Brewers and Cubs is they can look at what St. Louis did a season ago and hope to catch lightning in an October bottle.

Until then, it's the same old, same old in the Comedy Central.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

To the losers go the roil of spoiler

Say you're a team that played the first five months of the major league season at about 15 to 20 games (or more) under .500.

That would make September completely irrelevant right? Well for you, yes, but not necessarily for everyone else.

Just ask the Texas Rangers. Or the San Francisco Giants. Or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Those are just three of the teams who could -- and have started to -- stomp out some contending teams' October dreams.

The Rangers, prior to their loss in the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader to Detroit, were 13-2 in their last 15 games. San Francisco has two young pitchers -- Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain -- whom no one really enjoys facing. Same goes for Tampa Bay with Scott Kazmir and James Shields.

The bottom line for those three teams -- and several others I haven't mentioned -- became clear weeks and months ago, but they still could have an impact on the playoff races.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Looking for an NL MVP, turn to Philly

There is recent precedent for a player whose team did not reach the playoffs to be named the Most Valuable Player.

In fact, it happened last year in the National League when Philadelphia's Ryan Howard won the award.

And it should happen again this year, assuming the Phillies don't reach the playoffs. But it shouldn't be a repeat winner.

No, this year the NL MVP award should have Chase Utley's name engraved upon it.

The Philadelphia second baseman is in contention for a batting title, has nearly 50 doubles and is closing in on 100 RBIs despite missing a month of action because of a broken hand.

More importantly, he is the grit and determination behind a Phillies team that is trying to shake off a couple of seasons worth of September heartbreak.

Should Philly advance to the NL playoffs, it would be, in this person's opinion, a no-brainer for Utley to claim the award. Even if the Phillies fall short again, however, it makes Utley no less deserving.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Closing in 500

In this summer of milestones, one is in danger of being overshadowed by the playoff chase.

Chicago White Sox slugger Jim Thome has ridden a recent hot streak to the doorstep of the 500 Home Run Club. As of this post, the left-hander with the powerful uppercut stroke is within two homers of the milestone.

Thome should get it soon and join Craig Biggio in the group of nice guys who also finished first.

Thome seems like one of the classiest acts in baseball. He is almost always up for the Roberto Clemente Award and helped to take care of his nephew who was paralyzed after breaking his neck in a diving accident.

With two more home runs, Thome will earn himself a piece of baseball immortality. Off the field, he already has.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Rangers making a run

Apparently, the Texas Rangers are taking September seriously.

Their 7-3 win Saturday night over Oakland moved the team withone one game of the A's for third place in the AL West.

So what, you say?

The Rangers have been hammered for being a last-place team for so long, even a third-place finish would help Ron Washington continue to change the culture in the Metroplex.

Face it, outside of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Kansas City, there may be no team who needs a non-last-place finish other than the Rangers.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Catching our attention

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said MLB no longer cedes this time of the year to football.

He's dead wrong on that count, but pitchers are doing their best to keep us watching.

Last weekend, it was Scott Baker flirting with a perfect game Friday. Then Red Sox rookie Clay Buchholz tossed a no-hitter Saturday.

This week, John Smoltz proved old guys have a flair for the dramatic, taking a no-hitter into the eighth.

Football season is here, there is no doubt. But there is plenty of drama left in September baseball.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Everything comes back to ... Stanford?

The Chicago Cubs clubhouse is beginning to look like Omaha circa 2000.

And I don't mean because it's filled with players from the 2000 Omaha Royals. Instead, when rosters expanded, the North Siders added another player with ties to the 2000 College World Series.

Chicago already had Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot -- LSU's keystone combination -- on the roster. Mark Prior, injured for all of 2007, was a sophomore pitcher for USC in 2000.

The fraternity grew by one this week when the Cubs called up Sam Fuld, an outfielder whose Stanford Cardinal lost to LSU in the championship game that year when Brad Cresse lined an RBI single in the ninth inning.

I saw Fuld's name appear in a box score Thursday and it jogged my memory. For the unitiated, Fuld holds the CWS record for career hits -- as his Cardinal reached the CWS all four years he played in Palo Alto.

Fuld was, and apparently still is, a grinder in the truest since of the word. He dilligently worked his way through the Cubs' chain until reaching Wrigley.

Funny but it doesn't seem like seven-plus years have passed since I watched Fuld, Theriot, Fontenot, Prior and several other future big leaguers (Brad Hawpe, Scott Dohmann and others) hone their craft in middle America.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

September power rankings

I know these are about a week late, but better late than never right? Without further adieu, the MLB power rankings as the playoff races truly heat up:

American League
1. Boston --
The Red Sox are all but in the playoffs, but starting pitching may be a question if Dice-K continues to struggle.
2. Cleveland -- It took a while, but the Indians have put some distance between themselves and the Tigers.
3. L.A. Angels -- Scot Shields' troubles may be a byproduct of overuse.
4. N.Y. Yankees -- They're up, they're down. They're in, they're out. One roller-coaster year for the Evil Empire.
5. Seattle -- Mariners face Tigers in series of attrition.
6. Detroit -- Tigers have wilted on two fronts.
7. Toronto -- Blue Jays may not make playoffs, but have built momentum toward '08.
8. Minnesota -- No miracle run for the Twins this year.
9. Oakland -- Ditto for the A's.
10. Kansas City -- A dark horse for '08? You bet.
11. Texas -- Gagne trade has given Rangers hope for next year.
12. Tampa Bay -- Pleasant surprises about for Rays. Pitching, however, not one of them.
13. Baltimore -- Thought they had turned the corner under Dave Trembley. Thought wrong.
14. Chicago -- If Ozzie really wants to go, now's the time.

National League
1. San Diego -- By default. No one wants this spot apparently.
2. New York -- Mets bounced back nicely from Philly debacle.
3. Arizona -- Run differential is negative. D'backs' position is not.
4. Chicago -- Hanging in and hanging onto NL Central lead.
5. Philadelphia -- Lack of pitching will doom Phillies in playoff race.
6. Colorado -- Young Rox have Coors Field rocking.
7. Los Angeles -- Dodgers are an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a riddle.
8. Atlanta -- Braves happy to have Teixeira, but needed more pitching.
9. Milwaukee -- Brew Crew trying to stave off embarrassing collapse.
10. St. Louis -- Team Resillient welcomes back Mark Mulder.
11. San Francisco -- Giants reveled in playing spoiler for a week.
12. Washington -- Manny Acta for Manager of the Year.
13. Florida -- Marlins missed Joe Girardi this year.
14. Cincinnati -- Showed brief signs of life.
15. Houston -- Good luck, Cecil Cooper. You're going to need it.
16. Pittsburgh -- Almost as much as Jim Tracy does.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The end of Clemens?

We haven't seen the last of Roger Clemens this season, but one can't help but wonder if the 45-year-old medical marvel is reaching the end of his long, prosperous road.

Clemens was shelled by a struggling Seattle team Monday and immediately had an MRI on his right elbow. Then there was a cortisone shot in that elbow Tuesday.

And this is from a guy who didn't pitch until late May this season.

For all the dragged-out, will he retire or won't he retire offseason soap operas, you think the Yankees would like to have gotten more out of Clemens.

As it stands, this has been the (half) season that has finally exposed Clemens' baseball mortality. I'll admit, last year I was wrong about Clemens coming back. I thought the Astros were crazy for doing what they did. This year, it appears the Yankees won't the on-field return on their investment and that may signal the end for The Rocket.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Familiar faces in new places

Sept. 1 is the day numerous Triple-A baseball players look forward to because of roster expansion.

Instead of a 25-man roster, major league teams are allowed to carry 40 players from Sept. 1 until the end of the season. While looking through the transactions this weekend, I saw some names from the past who are headed to the bigs.

Take Brian Myrow. The former Louisiana Tech slugger is up with the San Diego Padres after bouncing around a couple of teams' minor league chains. Former Shreveport Captain Cody Ransom is up with the Houston Astros after spending the better part of two seasons at Triple-A Round Rock.

Finally, another player with local ties is heading somewhere new while retaining his prospect tag. Former Southwood standout Michael Aubrey is going to play in the Arizona Fall League for a second time this year, as the Cleveland Indians have selected him to take part in the most prestigious fall league for MLB prospects.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The 'other' trade pays off for Texas

It was that "other" trade right around the trade deadline the Texas Rangers made.

But, a month or so after the deals were consummated, it looks as though the trade that sent Eric Gagne to Boston is the one Rangers' fans can be happiest about right away.

With Gagne dispatched to the Northeast and Akinori Otsuka dealing with forearm issues, the Rangers have discovered a closer -- loopy left-hander C.J. Wilson, who, until recently, was better known for his oh-so-SoCal attitude and demeanor.

Since being thrust into the closer's role, however, Wilson has flourished. The latest example came Sunday night when he got into a jam of his own making.

Instead of imploding, however, Wilson walked the line and struck out hot-hitting Garret Anderson to give the Rangers a series win over the AL West leaders.

Regardless of whether Otsuka comes back in 2008 -- doctors are still searching for the source of his forearm issues -- Wilson has earned the right to start the season at the back end of the Texas bullpen.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Buchholz makes history

Clay Buchholz wasn't used much during his one season at McNeese State University.

On Saturday, all the lanky right-hander did was toss the third no-hitter of the major league season, doing so against Baltimore.

Buchholz's college career can be used as an example to show exactly why McNeese's program has dropped off significantly in the past several seasons.

Buchholz and fellow first-round pick Jacob Marceaux were Cowboys teammates who decided, after one season in Lake Charles, to pitch for junior colleges in Texas. There they blossomed and became premium draft picks.

All McNeese had to show for their time was two sub-.500 seasons. Transfers almost always make for someone getting the short end of the proverbial stick. This time it was McNeese.

But, as Buchholz showed Saturday night, he has come a long way from the Lake.