The New Yankee Hit Leader

With a Single on Sept. 11th, Derek Jeter became the Yankees Career Hits Leader
With a Single on Sept. 11th, Derek Jeter became the Yankees Career Hits Leader

Congratulations to Derek Jeter, the captain and poster-boy of the New York Yankees. As if he needed something else to solidify his legacy in “Pinstripes.” 

In the third inning on a rain-soaked Sept. 11th against Baltimore’s Chris Tillman, Jeter singled through the right side of the infield with this patented, Jeter-esqu, inside-out swing.  Yankees fans have seen this, quite literally, thousands of times.  This was no ordinary single though.

This single was the Captain’s 2722 hit of his career, this passed Yankee legend Lou Gehrig for first place all time on the Yankee career hits.  Gehrig held this record for 72 years. 

After the single, the entire Yankee team dispersed from the home dugout to encircle and congratulate Jeter for his milestone accomplishment.  “I didn’t know that they were going to do that, so that sort of caught me off-guard,” Jeter said. “It’s a special moment for me, it’s a special moment for the organization. To get an opportunity to share it with my teammates was a lot of fun.”  Despite the terrible weather, over 46,000 fans remained at the game to witness this very moment.

Derek Jeter tacked on another hit after his single in the third inning, bringing his grand total and the Yankee franchise hit mark to 2723.  Just for the record- that is a lot of hits.

This is a historic milestone, but this isn’t the end.  With each and every upcoming hit, Jeter will be adding to his franchise record and taking aim at other targets. 

Next target: 3000 hits.

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Polamalu’s Injury Hampers Steeler’s Defense

After week one win includes a costly injury for the Steeler's defense.

A week one win over the Tennessee Titans includes a costly injury for the Steeler's defense.

After winning the Super Bowl on the strength of its defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers were again billed as the top defense in the NFL heading into the 2009/10 season.  They did not disappoint either, opening with an exciting 13-10 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans.  As a football fan, this was a very fun and entertaining game to watch, but it certainly raised many questions for the Steeler’s organization.

One thing is for sure, this is clearly not the same team as last seasons championship squad.  The offense looked very average.  This was due mostly to the fact that the ground game was nonexistent and the offensive line performed very poorly.  The receiver core was solid despite a few mistakes and  Ben Roethlisberger was his normal self, throwing some good passes and making a few bad decisions.

The defense, on the other hand, was solid (though not as good as advertised).  The Steeler’s front seven had trouble pressuring the passer, however, the group was solid against the run.  Tennessee’s two-headed monster of Chris Johnson and LenDale White was held to 85 total rushing yards and no scores.  Play-making safety, Troy Polamalu, made an sensational leaping, one-handed interception on a deep ball.

Despite the win and the incredible interception, the Steeler’s defense was hit with a major blow.  They lost their Pro-Bowl safety (Polamalu) late in the first half.  Polamalu twisted his knee as he was trying to pick up on a loose ball after a blocked field goal.  The original diagnosis of the injury is a sprained MCL.  The severity is unknown, but it is currently listed as a 3-6 week injury.

Not only are the Steeler’s losing a great safety, they are also losing the heart and sole of their top-ranked defense.  A player of this magnitude is not easily replaced.

The AL MVP Award is Hardly a Done Deal

With less then a month left in the regular season the AL MVP award is still a toss up.

With less then a month left in the regular season the AL MVP award is still a toss up.

With just under a month of baseball left, the playoff picture is beginning to become more and more clear with each passing day. The Yankees and the Tigers have solid leads in their divisions while the battle for the West and Wild Card slots are anything but certain. Still anything can happen. Just like the unpredictable pennant races, the AL MVP award is still anyone’s’ game.

The major candidates are: Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira of the Yankees, Kendry Morales of the Angels, Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer of the Twins, and Kevin Youkilis of the Red Sox.

Breakdown:

With the wealth of pitching that the Yankees added this off-season, their biggest free agent acquisition may have been first baseman, Mark Teixeira. His addition to the Yankees has raised the defensive level of the entire infield (no doubt helping Jeter, who many believed was done being a capable big-league defender) and added a much needed threat to the batting order. As of today, Tex is leading the AL in RBIs with 106, tied for the lead in total bases with Toronto’s Aaron Hill, and is having a gold glove caliber year. His 35 home runs are second in the league to Carlos Pena. Pena is batting .227 and was just placed on the DL for the remainder of the year, this gives Teixeira time to surpass Pena’s total. What hurts Teixeira is he has been a very streaky hitter for the Yankees this season.

The shocking thing is, Teixeira might not even be the MVP of his own team. The way Mariano Rivera has pitched all season and the way Sabathia has pitched over the past 2 months has been great, but I am talking about the captain. Derek Jeter is having another MVP season. This might be his year too. He is third in the league in runs, fifth in batting, and also playing great in the field. Aside for the immeasurable leadership qualities he possesses, Jeter has also been a mainstay at the lead-off slot in the Yankees lineup. The word lead means a lot for Derek Jeter this year (along with his whole career), he is the leading hitter, the lead-off hitter, and the leader for the best offense in baseball.

When Teixeira jetted for the Angels, everyone in the baseball world thought that there would be a hole the size of the Grand Canyon to fill at first base. In reality, there was. However, Kendry Morales made the transition a lot easier to deal with for Angel’s management. He is batting .313 and has been a really consistent threat in the middle of that lineup with 30 HRs and 95 RBI. Morales is in the top ten in the league in batting, home runs, rbi, and slugging. That is really impressive for someone in their first full year in the MLB. With each home run and every rbi, Kendry is making Angel fans forget about Mark Teixeira.

Miguel Cabrera is the force that drives the Tiger’s offense. He has always been a fantastic hitter, and he is just having another one of his normal years. He is third in the league in batting, at .336; and will end up with over 30 HRs and 90 RBI. Cabrera is really the dark horse in the MVP race, he is having a great year at the plate like always, it is just not above and beyond everyone else. His fielding is nothing to write home about either. The only thing he has going is that he is the best hitter for a contender.

Mauer and Morneau have been nothing short of brilliant this year. Morneau has been one of the best run producers in the American League this season. However, Morneau’s star really began to fade earlier this month. He started out the season as the leading RBI man and was hitting and fielding great. But, over the past 30 days, Morneau has had just 1 HR and 10 RBI while batting at a .147 clip. Those are not numbers a MVP should put up.

They say a catcher is the most demanding position on the field, Joe Mauer has been great in every aspect of the game since returning from injury. He is currently leading the AL in batting average, OBP, Slugging, OPS, OPS+, and runs created. This home run, RBI, and run totals are astounding for someone who has missed a month of the season. Mauer was making a run a .400 batting average for half of his season; despite fading a bit, Mauer is still having a phenomenal season.

Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay’s seasons have gone just like the Red Sox season this year. At the beginning of the season, these two looked as if they could not be stopped. Bay has mashing home runs and driving in runs at an enormous pace and nobody in the AL could get Kevin Youkilis out.  Though Bay began to fade with the Red Sox win total, Youkilis remained productive throughout the season.  He is currently batting .313 and second in the league with a .416 OBP.  His slugging is in the top five in the league too.  Youk’s versatility has been a bonus for the Red Sox.  They have put him at both first base and third base, where he has played gold glove caliber defense.  Youkilis’s ability to hit and get on base is one of the reasons the Red Sox are still in the running for the Wild Card.

Smart money would be to bet an a player from the top team, like Teixeira.  But, baseball is anything but making the smart move.  If I had to choose as of now, I would pick Joe Mauer.  His impact on this team hasn’t been matched by anyone this season.

Tila Tequila’s Allegations?

Reality TV Star, Tila Tequila, makes outlandish acquisitions against Merriman.

Reality TV Star, Tila Tequila, makes outlandish acquisitions against Merriman.

Tila Nguyen, more commonly known as Tila Tequila, has made a name for herself through her myspace page and a crazy reality TV show.  On Sunday, September 6th, San Diego Charger’s linebacker, Shawne Merriman, was arrested on allegations of Assault, Battery, and False Imprisonment.  These allegations were made by Ms. Nguyen after she had been at Merriman’s home that night.

Just because a person is known as a drinker or partier does not give anyone the right to completely dismiss acquisitions as serious as these.  In fact, I feel that athletes should be held to the exact same standards as all citizens.  That does not mean punishments should be made more severe; but there is absolutely no reason for every athlete to have multiple “get out of jail free” cards and serve sentences in relaxed “celebrity jails” with TVs and buffets.  Sure Plaxico Burress can catch a football, however, I am fairly certain he cannot spell is name correctly.  Plaxico is arrogant, selfish, and a felon; that is not a role model for children, neither is Michael Vick, Chris Henry or Pacman Jones.

This case is generating steam and publicity off of the current wave of NFL’s law trouble.  People are quick to judge and crucify anyone in the NFL who makes a mistake.  Regardless of the actual outcome, this series of allegations may effectively end Shawne Merriman’s career as a San Diego Charger, as reported by ESPN.

But for every one of these cases, there is the complete opposite situation.  Whenever a situation like this (Celebrity or athlete accused of serious crime) arises, I think about the three Duke Lacrosse players and Kobe Bryant.  To write off Tila Tequila’s allegations as false would be completely and utterly irresponsible and wrong, but to automatically assume Merriman is guilty is a crime in itself.

Look at the evidence; it is overwhelmingly inconsistent.  In fact, there is none.

Ms. Nguyen claims Merriman, a 270 lb linebacker, choked her and threw her to the ground before confining her to his home.  Despite these claims, Tila Tequila had no visible marks, scrapes, or bruises on her body.  It is my experience that drunk people do not always remember things exactly how they happened.

Ms. Nguyen told police that she was not drunk and said in a Twitter comment that she does not drink alcohol because she is allergic to it (comment deleted shortly after posted).  However, at the bar where Merriman and Ms. Nguyen planned to meet, the owner and multiple bartenders stated that they witnessed Ms. Nguyen consuming alcoholic beverages that night.  Not only does this create a weakness in Tila’s story, it confirms Merriman’s report that Tila was intoxicated and he wanted her to have a safe mode of transportation.

On the outside looking in, it appears that Tila Tequila’s allegations may be false and that very well may be the case, but just because something appears one way does not mean that is necessarily the truth.  As of right now, Merriman is saying and doing all of the right things for himself and his team, however, if it turns out Merriman did commit these unexplainable actions, I still would not be surprised- this stuff happens.  If recent history has taught us anything though, it taught us all to wait until all is said and done before passing judgment.

Most Underrated Player in the MLB: Ryan Zimmerman

Not only is Ryan Zimmerman a threat at the plate, he is also arguably the best all-around third baseman in the league.

Not only is Ryan Zimmerman a threat at the plate, he is also arguably the best all-around third baseman in the league.

It’s a shame that the Washington Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman isn’t given more credit; he very well may be the best third baseman in the National League. (Here come the David Wright-lovers.) Yes, David Wright is an outstanding player, but I have to say he isn’t even the best third basemen in the NL East. Sure Longoria, A-Rod, and Wright are all great ball players, but I’ll take Ryan Zimmerman on my team any day of the week. It is about time this guy gets talked about outside of the Washington area.

At the plate, Zimmerman may not be as powerful as Alex Rodriguez or hit for as high of an average as David Wright. However, he does hit well for average, power and he drives in and scores runs in the process. It finally seems as if he matured as a hitter too, drawing walks and hitting with more power. His .899 OPS is fifth among third basemen and he is third among third basemen in Runs Created. Zimmerman may not flash the batting stats of a Hall of Famer, but he sure is making a name for himself with his bat.

If the old adage is “defense and pitching win championships,” Ryan Zimmerman has it committed to memory. He’s just ridiculous when it comes to fielding. Third base, barring catcher, is the most demanding position in the game and this is where he really separates himself from his peers. His range and glove are amazing and his arm is great too. It’s insane that this guy hasn’t won a gold glove yet. He lost out the past two years to David Wright. Sure, David Wright can pick it and has good range but every time he throws I have to hold my breath. It’s an adventure every time the ball is hit in David Wright’s vicinity.

His URZ/150 rating of 16.1 is well above anyone else at third base; no one is close. In fact, his URZ/150 rating is second overall among infielders. URZ/150 is the amount of runs above or below average a fielder is per 150 games. The next close among third basemen is Evan Longoria, whose URZ/150 of 13.8 is a full 2 runs less on the year.

Statistically, Zimmerman has the best range and most runs saved among third basemen. However, fielding statistics do not tell the whole story; it’s my firm belief that defense must be observed to be judged. Zimmerman does not disappoint there either – flashing the range, the cannon-like arm, the soft hands and the spectacular web gems. Like Scott Rolen and Brooks Robinson, neither of whom have been the best overall third basemen in the league at anytime, Zimmerman is without a doubt in a class of his own defensively right now.

Ryan Zimmerman is truly a special player. Statistics alone don’t do him justice. He really needs to be watched in person everyday to fully grasp his brilliance. The scary part is, at age 24, this is just the beginning- National Leaguers be warned. The Nationals made a great decision in signing this guy long-term. He might not be a Hall of Famer when it is all said and done, but right now the best third baseman in the NL is also the most underrated player in the game.

The Red Sox’s Great Rotation: Fact or Fiction??

Pitching was once believed to be the Red Sox's strenghts now is one of their biggest weaknesses

Pitching was once believed to be the Red Sox's strenghts now is one of their biggest weaknesses

Throughout the MLB off season, with every move that the Red Sox made, the media boasted of the genius and upside of each.  Adding Brad Penny and John Smoltz to an already loaded starting rotation was expected to be overkill, giving the Red Sox the best team and the deepest rotation in all of baseball.  Their pitching wealth came in all forms: established veterans, up and coming potential aces, and current aces.  With the Red Sox’s recent struggles, this leads me back to the beginning of the season when I first questioned the validity of these synopsises.  Not that the their rotation is not good, simply, that it is not as deep as perceived to be.
Undoubted, the Red Sox rotation is formidable.  If not for all of the injuries, there would be no doubts that it would be a good, borderline great rotation.  However, I ask, with all of this pitching depth at the Red Sox’s disposal, then where is it?
The rotation was supposed to be Beckett, Lester, Dice-K, Wakefield, and one of Buchholz, Penny, or Smoltz (when he returned from surgery).
Josh Beckett was the undisputed ace of the staff and has yet to disappoint in 2009.  He is 14-4 with a 3.38 ERA and has been nearly unhittable for the past three and a half months.  The toughness that Beckett brings to the Red Sox’s staff is undeniable.  John Lester is pitching great with a 3.58 ERA and 181 K’s to 51 BB’s in 161 innings pitched.  These two together create one of the best one-two punches in the MLB and they are both battle-tested in the AL East and playoffs.  But, these are also the only two sure things in the Sox’s rotation.
Wakefield was winning despite a mid-4’s ERA, Dice-K has not pitched much and when he did it wasn’t good, and the Smoltz/Penny pick-ups were not effective.
The struggles and injuries left the Red Sox hampered.  Their rotation now looks like a franchise draft in the MVP 2004.  The two studs up top followed by young Buccholz at 3, Penny as their 4, and Asian import Junichi Tazawa as the 5th starter.
Buccholz was supposed to be this phenom with the make up of an ace who could step in now and be lights out.  This is not been exactly how it worked out.  This is not to say that he will never reach his full potential, it is just to say that he is not big league ready now.  I am gonna starting giving grades to these players.   Clay Buccholz receives an I for incomplete due to his youth and lack of starts.
Brad Penny, he was coming off of a down year and was wreaking of upside, the Sox had nothing to lose with this pick up.  That is what the media said.  What they lost were quality starts.  Penny as had a couple of good games, but those games are offset by other horrific games he had pitched.  His 5.60 ERA, following the 20-11 NYY/BOS game, is no laughing matter unless you are the New York Yankees.  At least Brad Penny is still on the roster and has remained healthy, his signing grades out as a D.
John Smoltz is a future hall of famer, but the truth is that he should have never been on the Sox MLB roster.  He was a 42 year old coming off of major shoulder surgery.  The velocity was there but something else wasn’t, his command and the bite on his secondary stuff weren’t there yet.  His 8.32 ERA was very sad and it was sad to see a legend go out like this.  Red Sox recieve an F for this signing.
Tazawa is still very young and was pitching excellent in the minors.  He still needs time to develop so he is marked as an incomplete as well.  His body of work is simply not enough to judge but the .340 BA against is not a good sign and generally Asian and rookies benefit a bit at the start of their careers from the lack of f familiarity to big league batters.  He still receives an Incomplete although his career is not looking too bright.
The grades for Beckett and Lester are an A and A-/B+ respectively in case you were wondering.  Dice-K gets an F for not pitching and Wakefield get a solid B- for earning wins.
So let me reiterate, the Red Sox rotation has been okay and definitely should have been better.  Their two up top have been amazing but the depth that was supposed to be their calling-card has disappeared.  Did it disappear or was it a big hoax placed in baseball fans’ minds by the Pro-Sox voices?  I was skeptical from the start.  Sure it could have been one of the best rotations in baseball, but to say it was hands down, above and beyond every other team’s is just outlandish.  What about the Giants, the Yankees, the Cubs, or the Rays?  After all, the division-rival Yankees just added the top two starters in baseball via free agency.  Expect a bounce back in pitching performance next season as more depth should be added.

Philadelphia Phillies; Can they repeat??

Last season, the Philadelphia Phillies captivated the sports world. Though some would argue that the Phillies had a much more superior team than the heavily-favored Mets, their underdog status followed them through the season and into the playoffs.

This begs the question: Can the Phillies repeat as World Champions?

Last year, the Phillies were led by a potent offense, boasting 3 MVP threats in the heart of the order and a handful of other borderline all-stars and good role-players thrown in. However, the bullpen was surprisingly amazing for a handful of castaways and journeymen. Closer Brad Lidge was flawless in converting save opportunities and Ryan Madson found himself pitching brilliantly as Lidge’s setup man. The rotation was serviceable, with the stand out performers being the young lefty Cole Hamels and Brett Myers.

Hamels anchored the staff and ran through batters with the league’s best change up and Brett Myers was downright nasty in the second half of the season after being sent to the minors for a terrible first half. That duo combined with the ageless Jamie Moyer, mid-season acquisition Joe Blanton, and Kyle Kendrick formed the rotation. After playing underdog for the NL’s portion of the playoffs, the Phillies ran into the up and coming Tampa Bay Rays.

The Phillies now had a new role… they were the bad guys. Unless you live in Philly, you were probably rooting for the Rays who were a young and exciting team filled with energy and prior to last year, had never made the postseason in franchise history. The Phillies beat the Rays easily in 5 games.

At the first glance, it looks like they can repeat. The Phillies are sailing smoothly right now, currently leading the NL East by 4.5 games with no signs of slowing down. Newly added pitcher Cliff Lee has been unhittable and the rotation has depth. All while keeping the unheralded bullpen intact. And then there’s still that offense.

However, a deeper look points to a different answer.

Historically, the key to postseason success is good relief pitching. Just ask the New York Yankees of the late 1990’s. Last season, the Phillies’ pen was the best in the league. Trading for Brad Lidge during the off-season turned out to be the most important move this club made in a long time. Lidge bounced back from two sub-par seasons in Houston to deliver one of the best single-season relief performances in history, converting 41 saves in 41 opportunities. Then, the Phillies cut the aging Tom Gordon and replaced him with Ryan Madson in the setup role. Free agent signee JC Romero was the lefty specialist and he did not disappoint. Scott Eyre and Chad Durbin rounded out their solid bullpen.

This season has not been the same; Lidge has already blown 8 saves and is pitching to the tune of a 7.21 ERA. He has not been himself lately; the unhittable Lidge of last season seems pretty hittable. Lidge has been hampered by injuries and is ineffective almost always. Lidge went from being one of the top closers in the league to one of the least reliable closers in the game after one very big homerun in the postseason in 2005. Now, again, Lidge is struggling. Who knows what the problem is? Maybe he just lost the magic that was there last season, maybe his mechanics are messed up, maybe this is a lingering effect from the aforementioned injuries or maybe he has just lost the command of his fastball and the bite on his slider. Perhaps he is just unlucky, but his is unlikely because he has a great fielding infield with Rollins and Utley up the middle and Perez and Howard (who is much improved) on the corners and a very speedy outfield, what more can a pitcher ask for? His K rate is down from last year and he is getting hit hard. I honestly cannot believe he is still a MLB closer.

The scary part of this situation is not that Lidge is not performing, even scarier is that the possible replacements for Lidge may suffer the same fate.

Before everyone jumps on the Ryan Madson train, listen to the facts. Ryan Madson is a good setup man. The role really fits him but as a closer he is not the same. Madson is 4 for 8 in save opportunities this season and has only converted 9 out of 27 saves in his career, which is 33 percent. He simply has not been effective as a closer. His track record doesn’t support it and neither do his recent failures. When replacing Lidge this season, Madson’s ERA ballooned to 5.27 while blowing 3 of 6 save chances. Madson fell into the same light as Kyle Farnsworth, a good setup man who cannot close out games.

The rest of the bullpen is surrounded by question marks as well. Eyre is nothing more than a lefty specialist. His career ERA is 4.25 and he has only converted 4 out of 23 save opportunities in his time. JC Romero’s numbers are just as bad, with a 4.11 ERA and only 4 saves in 27 chances. Chad Durbin has a career ERA of 5.22. It is a bit unfair to judge setup men and relief pitchers by save percentages because a blown hold is a blown save and they are thrown to the wolves at anytime in any situation, not just to start the ninth inning like closers. But, their ERAs are nothing to write home about and it’s still unsettling to have such an inexperienced bullpen with such horrendous save percentages.

This may be an unnecessary panic. Perhaps Lidge will regain his form or Madson will develop a Mariano Rivera-like calmness or a Jonathan Broxton like bulldog mentality and become a really great closer. Maybe the Phillies with their mashing lineup and revamped starting rotation won’t even need a bullpen to win it all again. I will guarantee this though; the Phillies will not have an 11-3 postseason record again this year if they do not fix the bullpen. And if recent history has taught us anything, no (7-game) lead is safe and no win is secure if you can’t get the last out of a game. After all, that’s why the Mets overspent for K-Rod and Putz to replace Heilman, Wagner, and Ayala.