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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

See C.C.'s Crew

As a Cubs fan, I must say this through clenched teeth, but the Brewers may be the most soulful team in baseball, and their great team chemistry, bolstered by the additions of C. C. Sabathia and Ray Durham, combined with enormous talent, has made them into the most dangerous team in the National League the second half of the season.  Since acquiring the reigning A.L. Cy Young winner, the Brew Crew has gone 9-4 (and they're leading the Cardinals in the third game of a four-game set as I write this).  Sabathia has been no mere confidence booster.  He is 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 24 K in 24 innings coming into tonight, and has yet to allow a hit in five innings this evening.  However, his "confidence-boosting" may be even more critical.  Since he arrived in Milwaukee on July 6th, these are the numbers for some of the critical Brewers, not all of whom were running hot throughout the second half.  

Bill Hall (3B): .361, 9 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 1 SB, 1117 OPS
Ryan Braun (LF): .339, 9 R, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB, 1087 OPS
Prince Fielder (1B): .327, 6 R, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 1 SB, 1054 OPS
J. J. Hardy (SS): .321, 11 R, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 956 OPS  
Rickie Weeks (2B): .295, 14 R, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 3 SB, 881 OPS

I would like to draw special attention to Bill Hall, who lost his starting role to Russell Branyan in June, but is now back to playing every day and hit game-winning homers in each of the first two days of the critical Cardinals series, putting the Brewers alone in second place in the NL Central.  Hall, apparently a close friend of Sabathia, is looking like this year's version of Jacque Jones (whose huge second-half improvement bolstered the Cubs into last year's playoffs).  

This is also a good time to salute Doug Melvin, Ned Yost, and the Milwaukee Brewers organization, who now have six African-American players on their active roster.  Sadly, that's the most of any team in baseball.  Undoubtedly you will be reading in the coming months that the Brewers rely on "natural athletes," get by purely "on talent," won't be able to "handle the pressure," and are "disrespecting the game" by untucking their shirts when they shake hands after a win, the aphorisms which expose the not-so-subtle racism which is still very much a part of the baseball sportswriting and broadcasting establishment.  Don't be misled!  The Brewers "untucked" tradition is a testament to Mike Cameron's father, symbolic of a hard day's work and a job well done.  Cameron, Hall, and Ray Durham are grizzled veterans who have made long big league careers thanks in large part to their work ethic, diligence, studiousness, and willingness to do whatever necessary to help their team.  None of them was drafted higher than the 5th round.  Hall has play four different positions (2B, 3B, SS, CF) in the last three seasons, all of them demanding.  Cameron is a three-time gold-glover winner, esteemed around the league both for his personality and contributions on and off the field.  His Cam4Kids foundation, established in 2001 is dedicated to helping inner-city kids.  He is active is several other charity organizations as well.  Many though Durham's career was over after he hit .218 with the Giants in 2007, but he has brought is average back above .290 and his OBP above .380 in '08, right in line with his career numbers.  Despite spending his entire career as a starter, he immediately accepted his role as utility infielder and pinch hitter for the Brewers, embracing the opportunity to mentor Rickie Weeks and get long sought-after opportunity to go deep into the playoffs.  Since Durham arrived, Weeks is batting .400 with 6 runs, 2 extra-base hits, and 4 RBI, in four games.  

I've sung the praises of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun for almost two years now, so you already know I consider them the most talented duo in all of baseball.  But there are now many more reasons to Beware the Brewers!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Gaping Holes

It's already been a blockbuster trade season, with Aces C. C. Sabathia and Rich Harden joining NL Central contenders Milwaukee and Chicago respectively, but the deadline is still three weeks away.  It isn't quite clear exactly who is on the market yet, but here are a couple teams that have postseason aspirations who have obvious needs.

Detroit Tigers - Starting Pitching

The Tigers have clawed their way back to .500 going into the All-Star break, clearly still in contention for both the Wild Card and the AL Central crowd, although they will have to play very, very well in the second half.  Their vaunted offense is starting to click and the return of Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya may solve their bullpen woes, but Detroit will have to improve their rotation to have any chance of sniffing the postseason.  It looks as though Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman are done for the year.  Justin Verlander has turned his season around recently, winning his last three decisions and lowering his ERA in six consecutive starts.  Armando Galarraga (7-2, 3.27) has been a nice surprise, but, as a rookie, he shouldn't be counted on for quality innings down the stretch.  Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson can no longer be counted on as better than .500 pitchers or even innings eaters.  So, the Tigers need at least a #2 quality guy, and now it can't be C. C. Sabathia or Rich Harden.  Expect Detroit to pursue Joe Blanton, Aaron Cook, and possibly even Cliff Lee, whose value has never been higher and is signed through 2010.  The Indians could expect a Dan Haren-esque package in return.

New York Mets - Catcher, Left Field, Right Field, & Bullpen...Whew!!!

Obviously, it is unlikely that the Mets are going to pick up four impact players prior to the deadline, but if they are going to make a serious run at the playoffs, they need to compensate for some of the offense they have lost due to injuries (Moises Alou, Ryan Church, Luis Castillo) and lack of productivity (Brian Schneider, Carlos Delgado, Aaron Heilman).

The good news for the Mets is that despite the soap opera surrounding the unconscionable firing of Willie Randolph, they are only two games back of the equally inconsistent Phillies and Jose Reyes is in the midst of one of his prolonged hot streaks.  Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, and Johan Santana all have reputations for second-half dominance, so the Mets may only need one or two spare parts.  However, I can't see them opening the World Series with Endy Chavez and Fernando Tatis starting in the outfield.