MLB: One-third the way home

MLB: One-third the way home

MLB: One-third the way home
June 1st, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Red Sox broke the "Curse of the Bambino" by winning the 2004 World Series, and it looks as if they could do it again in 2007. With one-third of the season complete, Boston leads the majors with a 36-16 record and sports a 10-game lead in the AL East.

The Mets, who lost to the Yankees in 2000, own the best record (34-18) in the National League and enjoy a 4 1/2-game advantage over the Braves in the East. As each day passes, it looks more and more like a repeat of the famed 1986 World Series could take place.

That season was one to remember for Mets fans and one to cherish for the Sox faithful until game six. Every soul in Boston still blames Bill Buckner for losing that series, but if Bob Stanley had not thrown the wild pitch, Kevin Mitchell wouldn't have scored the tying run and Ray Knight would have still been at first base, unable to score the winning run on Buckners error.

What separates these two teams from the rest of the pack in 07 is how they have performed on the road. Boston is 18-8, while New York is number one at 18-7. No other team has less than 10 road losses and only three have winning percentages over 55%.

A clubs road record is a great barometer as to how far it will advance in the postseason. Last year, the Mets and Tigers had the top two road records in their respective leagues and both reached the Championship Series. Only a Yadier Molina home run prevented them from battling it out in the World Series. Back in 2005, the White Sox and Cardinals each led their leagues in road winning percentage and one of those clubs (Chicago) won the Fall Championship Classic, while the other reached the NLCS.

Boston opened the 2007 season as the 5-1 second choice to win the World Series. The Yankees, incidentally, were the favorites at 4-1. The Red Sox are currently the prohibitive choice at 3-1, while the Bronx Bombers are tied for sixth with the Tigers at 10-1.

The Mets are the second favorite behind the Sox at 5-1. Not a bad price considering the lack of competition they'll have to face in the National League. New York was an absurd 10-1 back in March since the club had tons of pitching staff question marks prior to the season opener. With Oliver Perez and John Maine combining for a 12-5 record and an ERA of 2.74, there should be little doubt that New York will be heading back to the NLCS. In addition, it looks as if Pedro Martinez will return in early August setting the stage for a dynamic postseason staff.

Its interesting to note that the Mets did not have the lowest odds of the 16 National League teams to win the World Series before the season began. Time to play a little bit of trivia. Try and figure out which NL club was favored back on March 25. I'll give you a few seconds to think about it: 5..4..3..2..1. The answer is the Cubs!

Chicago was actually 9-1 based on all its off-season acquisitions. Most of those players are getting the job done, but still the Cubs are 22-29. They are third in the league in ERA from the start of the game to the sixth inning at 3.50, and fourth in batting average at .265. They even lead the league in batting average with runners in scoring position at .286! So what has been the problem? That question can be easily answered with two words: the bullpen. Chicago is dead last in the National League in ERA from the seventh inning on at 5.24

The Cubbies are currently 18-1 to win it all, far below the 15-2 odds of the Central-leading Brewers and it doesn't look as if they will make a run anytime soon. In fact, they have dropped four straight and are currently in a three- way tie for second with the Pirates and Cardinals. Milwaukee, on the other hand, still leads the division despite winning only six of its last 20 games. The Brewers opened the season at 40-1, but rank only behind the Red Sox, Mets, Indians and Angels as favorites to win the World Series after one-third of the season.

RUNS ARE AT A PREMIUM

Thirteen of the 30 teams scored 800 runs or more last year. This year, with one-third of this season complete, only six clubs are on pace to reach that mark. The last time less than six clubs scored 800 runs or more came way back in 1992.

Throughout the two leagues, pitchers have been ahead of the hitters for the first time in 15 years. Already, 56 starters have ERAs below 4.00, while only 28 did so in 2007. Last season, just two pitchers ended the year below 3.00 (Johan Santana and Roy Oswalt) and 16 are under that mark at the beginning of June.

The OVER/UNDER totals still reflect a slight lean to the UNDERS as 18 of the 30 clubs have better UNDER records than OVER. This is readily apparent in the American League where only the Devil Rays, Indians, Tigers and Mariners sport over .500 marks towards the OVER.

TWO MONTHS IN THE BOOKS

As the season heads into June, the Red Sox and Indians have been the dominant American League teams, while the Yankees and Rangers have been the most disappointing. If one had wagered $100 on every Boston and Cleveland contest, he'd be up over $3,000.

Bettors would be down almost that amount ($2,482 to be exact) by wagering $100 on every single Yankees game. Texas is not anywhere in New Yorks class, but has second place all to itself at -1,361 units.

The surprising Arizona Diamondbacks lead the National League at +970 units, with the Mets and Nationals a close second and third. The NLs Central Division takes the cake on the negative side as five of the six clubs are in the red, led by the Reds at -1,574 units.

The top pitchers include C.C. Sabathia at +981 and Josh Beckett at +900 units. The Tribe have won 11 of C.Cs 12 starts and came away with another "W" on Thursday night with an 11-5 victory over the Tigers. Boston has won all of Becketts nine starts, while Washingtons Matt Chico leads the National League at +818 units.

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Re: MLB: One-third the way home

I still can't get excited about Baseball this year for some reason or another.  :-","xx

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For the White Sox, there's always June
June 1st, 2007

(Sports Network) - As quickly as the temperature is rising, the Chicago White Sox are burying themselves deeper and deeper in the American League Central standings.

And with each loss -- five in a row entering Friday -- manager Ozzie Guillen's fuse is becoming shorter and shorter.

With Thursday's 2-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, the White Sox fell below .500 at 24-25. More importantly, they fell to 7 1/2 games behind the division- leading Cleveland Indians.

Adding to the frustration, the White Sox have been losing in nearly every way imaginable. On Sunday, the bullpen erased a tie game in the seventh inning by coughing up seven runs over the final three frames, as Chicago went on to lose 11-5 to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

The next day, with the White Sox kicking off a fresh series with the Minnesota Twins, it was the starting pitching that faltered. Jose Contreras was chased out of the game after giving up seven runs in 5 1/3 innings. And with that, another six-run loss for Chicago.

Rookie hurler John Danks dug the White Sox another early hole on Tuesday, as he lasted only 3 1/3 innings after getting shelled for six runs on nine hits. The loss snapped a three-game win streak for the youngster, who the club will now be counting on to get right back on track.

Wednesday's game was just the opposite of the first two games of the series, as Chicago watched a five-run lead evaporate in a hurry. Starter Jon Garland was charged for six runs, but it was a ninth-inning, bases-loaded walk issued by David Aardsma that spelled the Sox' doom.

Following the game, Guillen said his team "looked like Little Leaguers," even calling the entire week "pathetic."

And what the team did for an encore Thursday against Toronto could be just the thing to send the manager over the edge. After all, the White Sox lost a game in which starter Mark Buerhle tossed a two-hitter. Granted, both of the hits traveled out of the park. But this time it was the offense taking the night off, as the White Sox were shut out by Roy Halladay, who was masterful in his return from the disabled list.

One day it's the bullpen. Another, it's the starting pitching or the bats. If the trend continues, Guillen may need a tub of antacids.

GUILLEN A TICK-TICK-TICKING TIMEBOMB  ;D

Guillen seldom holds back during his interview sessions, and this week has been no different.

"We should be in last place by 10, 14 games," Guillen told the team's official website prior to Wednesday's game. "Believe me. I'm telling the truth."

Guillen said that, with the exception of a few guys, if a player does not see his name in the lineup, well, it's not because he's got the day off.

"I'm going to play the guys that I think are swinging the bat better," he said. "I think I've seen enough and every day we continue to do the same stuff. Not too many people here give me good at-bats right now."

Guillen even went as far as to say that if General Manager Kenny Williams is not happy with his coach, then a coaching change should be made. The following day, Guillen did not back down from his statements, saying he just wants to send a message.

OZUNA, ERSTAD OUT

As if inconsistent play is not enough, the White Sox must now go on without two key players for the foreseeable future. On Monday, utility player Pablo Ozuna was placed on the DL after fracturing his right fibula and tearing a ligament in his ankle while rounding out a double.

"We're going to miss a big part of our ballclub, maybe for a couple months," Guillen told the team's website. "It's a shame, as a manager, this kid is real valuable to me. This kid brings a lot of stuff to the game, he's real good."

Center fielder Darin Erstad left Thursday's game with an injury to his left leg. He injured the leg while swinging at a pitch in the sixth inning, and immediately fell to the ground and clutched the back of his left leg.

An offseason acquisition, Erstad was batting .268 with two home runs and 21 RBI.

WHO'S HOT

Jon Garland has been the most consistent starting pitcher over the last month, posting a 3-1 record with a 3.89 ERA over his last five starts.

WHO'S NOT

Tadahito Iguchi is hitting barely over the Mendoza Line (.203) over his last 79 at-bats, while Juan Uribe is hitting under the infamous mark (.185) over his last 65 at-bats.

A LOOK AHEAD

The Sox continue their four-game set with the Blue Jays into the weekend, with Javier Vazquez (2-3, 4.50) facing A.J. Burnett (5-4, 4.06) on Friday, Contreras (4-5, 4.45) facing Dustin McGowan (1-2, 5.90) on Saturday, and Danks (3-5, 4.59) squaring off against Shaun Marcum (2-2, 3.70) on Sunday. And on Monday, Garland (3-3, 3.91) takes the hill against the New York Yankees and Roger Clemens, who will be making his much anticipated first start of the season.

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Twins close out an ugly May with a strong finish
June 1st, 2007

(Sports Network) - Like a savvy boxer trying to steal a round with a late flurry, the Minnesota Twins punched their way out of an otherwise forgettable May with a strong finish of their own.

Heading into the 20th game of the month, the Twins had sputtered along with a 6-13 record in May. Since then, however, the team has gone a resilient 7-1. Not bad for a team many had already begun writing off in the American League Central race just a couple of weeks ago.

Just like that, Minnesota has climbed back into third place in the Central, and the team is just six games behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians.

"We feel pretty good right now," Justin Morneau told the team's official site. "It doesn't matter if we're down by two (runs) or up by two, we feel like somehow we're going to find a way to win the game."

With Wednesday's dramatic 7-6 win over the visiting Chicago White Sox, the Twins not only completed a series sweep, but managed to win their fourth straight series. Prior to brooming away the Sox, the Twins had taken two of three from the Milwaukee Brewers, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays.

In three games against the White Sox, the Twins piled up a whopping 26 runs, while letting up just 12. But it wasn't a line drive hit or a towering home run that earned Wednesday's one-run win. Rather, it was a bases-loaded walk -- on four pitches.

Twins starting pitcher Scott Baker was shelled early, but the bullpen held its ground while the offense chipped into the lead. And with ducks on the pond and the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, Torii Hunter stayed patient at the plate and recorded the "walk-off" RBI.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, although still fuming over his team's lackluster effort in the series, did not hesitate to give the Twins his ringing endorsement.

(The Twins) compete as a team," Guillen told the Minnesota Star Tribune. "They get you as a team, and that's why they win, and that's why they have five or six division titles. No one gives it to them. I'm the only one in baseball who ever gives those guys credit. Because they deserve credit. They come here, they show up and kick our butt."

BULLPEN DOING ITS JOB

The real knight in shining armor during the Twins' comeback victory over the White Sox was Minnesota's bullpen, which pitched six innings of no-hit, no-run baseball.

Only a couple weeks ago, the pen saw three relievers go down with injuries in a nine-day span. But the pitchers who continue to make the trot from behind the outfield wall to the mound have simply been lights out as of late.

Jason Miller has been pitching less than a week in the majors and has yet to give up a hit in three appearances. Pat Neshek has a 0.48 ERA over his last 17 appearances. Matt Guerrier, a 1.50 ERA over his last 14 appearances. And closer Joe Nathan has tallied a 1.85 ERA with 11 saves in 12 opportunities on the season.

Entering Wednesday, opponents were hitting just .238 against the Twins' relievers.

Manager Ron Gardenhire was quick to praise his bullpen for allowing the team to climb back into Wednesday's game, as was Hunter.

"We were trying early on in the season to come back, and it just couldn't happen," Hunter told the team's official site. "Things weren't clicking. Now everything is going right. Our bullpen has been big for us."

WHO'S HOT

Michael Cuddyer has been on an absolute tear over the past week, tallying 12 hits in his last 22 at-bats. In that span, he has scored eight runs, knocked in another eight, and struck out only three times while drawing seven walks.

WHO'S NOT

Baker has amassed a 9.72 ERA over his last two starts.

Ramon Ortiz (3-4, 5.65) posted a double-digit ERA in the month of May and the Twins were 1-6 in his last seven starts. Subsequently, he was moved to the bullpen on Monday.

A LOOK AHEAD

The Twins travel to Oakland for a weekend series with the A's, followed by another road series with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. On Friday, Kevin Slowey makes his major league debut in Ortiz's spot and will face Joe Kennedy (1-4, 3.62). Carlos Silva (3-5, 4.22) takes the mound for the Twins Saturday against Joe Blanton (4-3, 4.28), and Minnesota ace Johan Santana (6-4, 3.21) will start Sunday's game opposite Chad Gaudin (5-1, 2.32).

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Tigers caught in a rut
June 1st, 2007

(Sports Network) - With losses in six of their last seven games, the Detroit Tigers suddenly find themselves searching desperately for answers.

Detroit remains in second place in the American League Central standings by 2 1/2 games over the third-place White Sox. But the Cleveland Indians have stretched their lead in the division to 3 1/2 games.

Just how bad have things gotten for the Tigers over the last week and change? Justin Verlander, who has been among the most reliable starting pitchers in the majors in his young career, was torched for seven runs against Cleveland Thursday night as the Tigers lost by a six-run margin.

"We're just in a little stretch where we're not playing our best baseball, and that happens," Verlander said after the game. "We have to grind through this and turn things around here. I would've liked to have been that guy to step up tonight and turn things around for us and get us going in the right direction, but I couldn't do it."

The Tribe has had the Tigers' number lately, with Cleveland cruising to a three-game sweep over Detroit just last weekend. The Indians were able to get to starter Nate Robertson for five runs in last Friday's 7-4 win over Detroit. On Saturday, it was the bullpen coughing up a seventh-inning lead en route to a 6-3 Indians victory. The Indians followed that up by touching Mike Maroth for five runs the following day, as the Indians went on to win, 5-3.

"The good thing is that we play them a lot more times," said Maroth after the Tigers were swept Sunday.

Still, now is no time for the Tigers to panic, despite having now lost four straight to their division-rivals. With a collective .282 batting average, Detroit remains the best hitting team in the majors. Five of the team's regulars are hitting above .280, and three are hitting well above .300.

On the other hand, the pitching, which was the team's calling card en route to a World Series run a year ago, has not been up to par. Verlander (5-2, 3.44) and Jeremy Bonderman (4-0, 3.34) have been steady for the most part, but the none of the other three starters boasts and ERA under 4.25. The team's 4.53 combined ERA ranks 21st in the majors.

If the Tigers are to turn things around in June, the pitching will need to get up to speed with the hitting.

REINFORCEMENTS ON THE WAY

Throughout the season's first two months, the Tigers have been able to out- slug their way to more than a few wins. And with the looming return of Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge this weekend, the team may be able to continue to do just that if the pitching continues to falter.

Third baseman Inge is recovering from an injury to his left big toe, and shortstop Guillen is recovering from a strained hamstring. Guillen's injury occurred after hitting a groundball in Wednesday's game, and he immediately went to the trainer's room. Calling it a day-to-day injury, Guillen said he expects to return to the lineup this weekend.

"It's not bad," Guillen told the team's official website the day after the injury. "I was scared (Wednesday night) because there was a lot of pain. (Thursday) it's better, really."

Inge has a slight fracture in his toe, which occurred on Tuesday. He has been able to swing, but running is a different story.

"It seems to be getting better," Inge said. "I can put more pressure on it when I'm walking right now. I can move it more (Thursday) than I could (Wednesday). It's still going to be a couple days before I can get in there, I think, but at least it's a good sign. I'm just going to have to play through some pain, probably."

WHO'S HOT

Gary Sheffield, who was ejected from Thursday's game for throwing a bat, is hitting .407 over the last seven games, with three home runs and eight RBI.

WHO'S NOT

Verlander and Robertson have identical 7.36 ERAs over their last two starts, which certainly helps explain why the team is in its current slide.

A LOOK AHEAD

The Tigers resume their four-game set with the Tribe this weekend, followed by a trip to Texas for a mid-week series with the Rangers. Mike Maroth (3-2, 5.04) gets the nod against Fausto Carmona (6-1, 2.89) on Friday. Chad Durbin (4-1, 4.39) will oppose Cliff Lee (2-2, 5.86) on Saturday, and Bonderman squares off with Jeremy Sowers (1-5, 6.29) on Sunday.

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