Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Jonathan Broxton, Heath Bell are lights out

Apparently, somebody has gotten through to closers Jonathan Broxton of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Heath Bell of the San Diego Padres.

Both look to be as dominant as anybody coming out of the bullpen in 2009.

Bell is 8-for-8 in save opportunities with a 0.00 ERA; Broxton is 6-for-6 with a 2-0 record and 0.90 ERA.

What makes both men tick?

Each is big and powerful with the ability to blow away hitters. And that’s what both are doing thus far.

Somebody on both ends must have told these two closers to quit nibbling around the plate and just get the job done quickly.

A year ago as set up men, each seemed to be trying to be too fine in often working to full counts on batters. Now, each bruiser seems to be going right after people with strike one, strike two and strike three.

Broxton is near 300 pounds; Bell has dropped about 20 pounds to 225. Each is a terror on the mound when going right after hitters, which is going to spell relief for the Dodgers and Padres.

In LA, Broxton is replacing Takashi Saito. Bell has taken over in San Diego for all-time MLB saves leader Trevor Hoffman.

Broxton will likely be pitching in the playoffs this year. Bell’s team will probably finish last or next-to-last.

But when it comes to individuals, you won’t find two more up-and-coming closers than Broxton and Bell.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Shawne Merriman: Say goodbye to Chargers!

No matter how the San Diego Chargers spin it, Shawne Merriman is as good as gone within the next two seasons.

The Chargers picked outside linebacker Larry English of Northern Illinois first in the NFL Draft because:

They think (a) Merriman may not be fully recovered from knee surgery, (b) he will walk as a free agent within the next two years, or (c) both.

The most likely answer is “c,” since Merriman will be gone either way after 2009 or 2010.

One name you haven’t heard over the weekend is Jyles Tucker, who was signed to a long-term contract last season as protection against Merriman not returning.

When English signs his lengthy contract, the Chargers will have two replacements for Merriman signed up.

Goodbye, Shawne!

As great a player as Merriman is at full strength, he certainly went into the team’s doghouse last season when he signed a contract with “Best Damn Sports Show Period” on Fox Sports Network.

Even had he been healthy, he was going to fly to Los Angeles every Thursday night to participate in the show throughout the season. That certainly does not come across as putting his team first.

Let’s face it: Merriman definitely enjoys the bright lights.

The big question is where those bright lights will be outside of San Diego within a couple of years.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Georgia coach Mark Richt: A true winner!

University of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford may be the big financial winner in this weekend’s NFL draft, but the true champion is his college coach.

No matter what happens with the Bulldogs, they can always bank on the fact that their coach Mark Richt and his wife, Katharyn, are No. 1 where it really matters … in the game of life.

Their heroic story unfolded a decade ago in the Ukraine, where Katharyn went to adopt a young orphan named Andre.

By the time she arrived, Andre had already been adopted but there was a little girl named Anya there with a severe facial deformity.

The Richts not only adopted Anya; they also adopted a boy named Zach.

Ten years later, the two Ukrainian-born children continue to join the Richts’ two older boys as part of a family of four kids.

Why such a good heart from the Richts? It also goes back to a Bible passage about orphans and widows.

James 1:27: “Pure, unstained religion, according to God our Father, is to take care of orphans and widows when they suffer and to remain uncorrupted by this world.”

The Richts, like thousands of others, are blessed beyond belief to be taking care of those who couldn’t care for themselves.

Their youngest children are now 11 and 12; had they been in the Ukraine they would have been kicked out of their orphanage at age 15.

Only because of a coach and his wife … the ultimate winners in Southeastern Conference football … will they be given a chance to live life to the fullest!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Elijah Dukes deserves praise; not punishment

Elijah Dukes has gotten himself into plenty of trouble in the past for poor off-the-field behavior.

So what happens when he goes above and beyond to do what's right?

The Washington Nationals … worst in MLB in on- and off-field relations … decide to punish him.

By now, you’ve probably heard the story of how Dukes was benched and fined $500 for being late to last Saturday’s game vs. the Florida Marlins.

But in his defense, he was at a local Little League signing autographs, speaking to players and watching a parade.

Evidently, since Duke was late (for warm-ups, not the game) and the event was not sponsored by the Nationals, he was made an example of by team management.

So now, it appears that the message to Nationals players is not to do anything nice on your own because you could face discipline. (One must wonder if Dukes would’ve faced repercussions if the event had been sponsored by the Nationals.)

The Nationals need all the help they can in the community, as well as on the field. This poor judgment by team management matches the team’s record … which is worst in MLB.

The Great Falls Little League, where Dukes was speaking, says it will pay the $500 fine (even though $500 is like pennies to a MLB player.)

But this is not about money; it’s about principle. And the Washington Nationals have truly blown it off the field, just as they so often do between the lines.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Florida Marlins do things the right way

You have to give credit to the Florida Marlins for the way they operate.

Not only do they have the lowest payroll in MLB; they also have the best record after two weeks.

And it may not be a fluke.

This is a team built on a MLB-low $36.8-million budget, a wing, a prayer … and with a lot of talent.

Outside of Hanley Ramirez and his 6-year, $70 million contract, the Marlins have very few players in the higher level of MLB payrolls.

Dan Uggla does make $5.35 million this season and Jorge Cantu is at $3.5 million. But after that, the rest of the team is below the MLB average.

And “average” is something that the Marlins are not. In fact, they may be able to challenge the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets in the tough NL East. After all, the San Diego Padres have exposed both of those teams in the past week.

As for the Marlins, they keep rolling along with a seven-game winning streak.

Why? Take a couple of comments made to the Associated Press after Sunday’s 7-4 win at the Washington Nationals.

“When we're down, nobody panics,” Cody Ross said. “We have a feeling we're going to win. It's just a matter of time. That's the way we've approached it the last week or so and it's kind of paid off for us.”

Added Uggla: “It's not just one guy getting the job done. Multiple people are capable of getting the job done.”

When you consider all of the MLB teams trying to buy a pennant, it’s hard not to pull for the Marlins.

Friday, April 17, 2009

MLB Network: Beats the heck out of ESPN!

Give credit to the new MLB Network for doing such a fantastic job right away.

And give credit to San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell for noticing.

“I truly believe ESPN only cares about promoting the Red Sox and Yankees and Mets – and nobody else,” Bell, a former Met, recently told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “That's why I like the MLB Network, because they promote everybody. I'm really turned off by ESPN and 'Baseball Tonight.' When Jake Peavy threw 8 1/3 innings on Saturday, they showed one pitch in the third inning and that was it. It's all about the Red Sox, Yankees and Mets.”

Bell has noticed what so many of the rest of us have … that ESPN is only about three teams.

No wonder that when neither of the New York teams nor Boston goes far in the playoffs, the TV ratings go down. That’s because people know relatively little about the 27 other teams … thanks to ESPN.

The great thing about the MLB Network is that it treats all 30 teams the same. You’re just as likely to see highlights of the Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates as you are to see the Big Three teams ESPN drools over.

Matt Vasgersian, lead studio host for MLB Network, also hit it on the head when he said you won’t have to wait 15-30 minutes to see your team’s highlights as you might on ESPN (especially if you’re not the Yankees, Mets or Red Sox.)

Plus, MLB Network often goes to live shots around the leagues. For instance, it was great to see Ken Griffey Jr. within moments of his 400th home run as a member of the Seattle Mariners.

Here’s one vote in favor of the MLB Network. Keep up the good work!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

San Diego Padres: Among the best in MLB?

Are the San Diego Padres really one of the best teams in MLB?

With a 6-2 start, you’d think so. With most “experts” picking them to finish last in the NL West (and possibly with the worst MLB record), you’d think not.

What makes this team go thus far in 2009?

Look no further than the bullpen.

Through eight games, it has been the best bullpen ERA in the majors. (Of course, San Diego started out the same way last year, only to implode on its way to a 63-99 record.)

Outside of Duaner Sanchez, Cla Meredith and Heath Bell, you’ve never heard of any of the guys in the bullpen. Bell won’t make people forget that Trevor Hoffman is the all-time saves leader; but he’s soon going to make people forget about Hoffman as the team’s closer (Bell is for real!)

The starting staff is solid at the top with Jake Peavy (until he gets traded) and Chris Young. When you consider No. 3 starter Walter Silva came to the U.S. on a tryout from Mexico last month, it tells you all that you need to know about the back end of the rotation.

Outside of cleanup-man Adrian Gonzalez, the lineup is either largely unproven or a couple of has-beens. Those has-beens, David Eckstein and Brian Giles, will make opposing pitchers rack up the pitch count … if nothing else.

Thus far, Eckstein is playing with the enthusiasm of a rookie. He can only hope that his enthusiasm spreads; along with his patience.

Nobody is petitioning yet for Bud Black to be the NL Manager of the Year.

But if he can keep this rag-tag bunch at or near .500 all year, he certainly needs to be considered.

Monday, April 13, 2009

MLB Season: Way too early for predictions

One week into a six-month MLB season is no time to be drawing definitive conclusions.

But based on what has happened so far:

The Washington Nationals will not go winless (well, at least, let’s hope not.)

However, Manny Acta of the Nationals will be the first manager fired.

The San Diego Padres will not win the NL West.

Manny Ramirez will not average one RBI per game for the Los Angeles Dodgers; unlike last season.

The Houston Astros will have their traditional slow start with a fast finish that is too late.

The Seattle Mariners will not win the AL West.

Neither will the Toronto Blue Jays win the AL East.

The Detroit Tigers will not go undefeated at home; but they may bounce back in the AL Central.

The Boston Red Sox will not finish last in the AL East.

Give it six months … and don’t be surprised if the standings are turned upside-down from where they are in some divisions today.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nick Adenhart: Tragedy recalls sad memories of Lyman Bostock

Nick Adenhart’s life was taken way too soon.

At only 22 years of age, the Anaheim Angels pitcher had a multi-million dollar future ahead of him … not to mention a mega-million dollar personality that made him liked by all, according to teammates.

His sudden and shocking automobile accident death brings to mind another fallen Angel in Lyman Bostock.

Back in September 1978, Bostock, 27, was in his hometown of Gary, Ind. after a game and was fatally shot.

Like Adenhart, Bostock had a great career in front of him. And what’s more, Bostock put his money where his bat was.

Old-timers will remember the time when Bostock struggled so much in April 1978 with the then California Angels that he offered to return his entire salary for the month. (See if that ever happens in this baseball era!)

After three years with the Minnesota Twins, Bostock signed with the Angels as a free agent and batted .150 for the month of April. He went the team's management and attempted to return his April salary, saying he had not earned it. The team refused, so Bostock announced he would donate his April salary to charity.

Bostock batted .404 in June on the way to a .296 average for the season that tragically ended too soon for him.

Adenhart was killed by a suspected drunken driver; Bostock by a jealous husband who thought Bostock was having an affair with the murderer’s wife. (Bostock, who was riding in the back seat a car with the woman, had just met her 20 minutes earlier.)

Sadly, Bostock’s killer was found innocent by reason of insanity and spent only 21 months in custody.

Let’s hope that Adenhart’s killer receives a more just punishment.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Joe Torre: Best manager of this era?

Is Joe Torre the best manager of this era?

From this corner, the answer appears to be “yes.”

If/when Torre leads the Los Angeles Dodgers into the playoffs this season; it will be the 14th consecutive time his team has reached the postseason.

That would tie Bobby Cox of the Atlanta Braves for the all-time record of 14 straight times in the playoffs.

What’s more, Torre’s 80 postseason victories are more than any other manager in MLB history.

Oh, sure, you could point out that 12 of the postseason appearances were with the high-payroll of the New York Yankees … and the 13th was with the Dodgers and late-season addition Manny Ramirez.

Speaking of the Yankees, did you notice what happened without Torre in 2008? For the first time since 1995, the year before Torre became their manager, they did not make the playoffs.

Certainly, Torre has taken advantage of leading some extremely talented teams.

But having the highest payroll/most talent doesn’t always equal the postseason.

Just ask Joe Girardi and the 2008 New York Yankees.

Monday, April 6, 2009

MLB Opening Day: There's nothing like it

Opening Day.

There’s nothing like it in sports.

It’s a sign that spring is here (well, maybe not in Boston or Chicago), baseball season is on and all is well in America for at least a day.

There are tons of memorable Opening Days. In the 41-year history of the San Diego Padres, none may have had as many twists and turns as the April 5, 1983 opener at the San Francisco Giants.

The Padres won, 16-13, but not before the game took 3 hours, 39 minutes (in an era when 2 ½ hours was a long game.)

San Diego’s winning pitcher was Tim Lollar, who gave up six runs on eight hits in five innings.

Mike Krukow of the Giants wasn’t so fortunate, surrendering four runs, three walks and four hits in 1 1/3 innings to take the loss.

The Padres led after 5 ½ innings, 16-6, only to hold on for dear life before Gary Lucas earned the save with 1 1/3 shutout innings.

Along the way, Garry Templeton had a home run and four RBIs for the Padres, Terry Kennedy and Lollar each added three RBIs and newly-acquired Steve Garvey was 2-for-4 with two runs scored.

Thankfully, not many Opening Days transpire as this one did.

Don’t expect nearly as much when Jake Peavy of San Diego faces the Los Angeles Dodgers on Opening Day because he always beats the team from up north.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Will there be an Angels-Dodgers Freeway World Series?

Jake Peavy may very well be a member of the Chicago Cubs before the 2009 MLB season is over.

Too bad that the Cubs would then discover that Peavy is no more successful in the postseason than they are.

On the other hand, the Los Angeles Dodgers are an ace pitcher away from being very good. Don’t be surprised if they turn the corner in July by dealing for the likes of a Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays.

That being said, here’s one blogger who believes there will be a Southern California Freeway World Series this year between the Dodgers and Anaheim Angels.


AL West
Los Angeles

AL Central
Kansas City

AL East
New York
Tampa Bay

NL West
Los Angeles
San Francisco
San Diego

NL Central
St. Louis

NL East
New York

Wild Cards: Yankees, Mets

World Series: Angels over Dodgers

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Padres need to discover whether Heath Bell can close

Remember back in 1993 when the San Diego Padres brought in an unknown pitcher from the Florida Marlins during the team’s fire sale days who was often booed by San Diego fans?

Little did anyone know that 16 years later, Trevor Hoffman would be the all-time MLB saves leader with 554 (not to mention a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.)

The Padres may have botched their handling of the Hoffman situation after 2008, but there’s no question they need to find out whether Heath Bell is the closer of the future.

(And there’s no better year to do it than in 2009, when the team will likely finish last whether Hoffman or Bell is the closer.)

Bell may be 552 career saves short of Hoffman, but there’s no telling how good (or bad) he’ll be moving from an eighth- to ninth-inning role.

To be sure, the Padres may not get to Bell very often unless Jake Peavy or Chris Young is the starting pitcher. Plus, the set up duo of Cla Meredith and Duaner Sanchez isn’t likely to strike fear in the hearts of opposing batters.

Even so, the Padres need to discover whether Bell can succeed on those limited save opportunities.

As for Hoffman, he’ll start the season on the disabled list for only the second time in his career.

In retrospect, it’s too bad he and the Padres could not have agreed to go one more year together.

When all is said and done, don’t be surprised if Trevor Hoffman and the Milwaukee Brewers are this year’s version of the 2008 one-year marriage between Brett Favre and the New York Jets.