AL Central Update: Gagne, Borowski, Jones, Sterling, and Waldman
by Scott Long
So while the major media focused on the Yankees and Red Sox pursuit of Eric Gagne at the trade deadline, the 2 teams that most needed him came up empty. At the beginning of July, it appeared like Detroit and Cleveland would take 2 of the 4 AL playoff spots. Now these teams hold less than a game lead over New York and neither one has anyone near a Mariano Rivera closing out games.
The Indians bullpen was the reason I couldn't put them in the same category as the Red Sox and Angels before the season, and despite the great production they have gotten from relievers Rafael Bettencourt, Rafael Perez, and Aaron Fultz, closing out games is still a problem for the team. Manager Eric Wedge, whose dismal record in 1-run contests has been discussed here before, has Joe Borowski (4.85 ERA) taking the ball at the end of games. While Borowski has pitched pretty well during the past month, would you want to rely on Borowski down the stretch? When doing some research on Borowski, I discovered some really bizarre splits.
If you think these stats are a complete fluke, Borowski's career stats show that he pitches a run and half better at night than during the day (3.27 to 4.77). His indoor/outdoor ERA has almost the same differential (2.87 In to 4.11). So unless I was facing the Twins at night, I don't think I would use Borowski on the road during any tight circumstances. As good as Bettencourt has been, I would much rather him stay in the 8th inning role, with someone like Gagne closing games out. Considering his track record, it seemed like the time to take bullpen management out of Eric Wedge's hands by giving him an ace closer, instead of using a retread like Borowski or past seasons Bob Wickman.
On the subject of retreads, here comes Todd Jones (4.76 ERA) into the game for the Tigers. Last season, Jones brought some veteran leadership to the pen, with smoke being thrown in the 7th and 8th innings by young guns Zumaya and Rodney. With the injuries of this year, Jones has been exposed more for the guy player he really is. Hey, I think there are spots for guys like Jones and Borowski, who are willing to take the ball at crunch time, but I don't think they should be closing games for elite teams. Actually, Jones and Borowski would be a good 2-headed closer, as Jones has a daytime ERA of 2.08 this season (versus his ERA at night of 6.43).
The Yankees have enough pitching problems that the AL Central might still get 2 teams into the playoffs this season, but Gagne was a big piece of the puzzle for the Indians and Tigers and I suspect it will cost one of them.
Sure it's too late to make a difference right now, but the White Sox have played as well as anyone over the past couple of weeks. The bullpen has settled down, with a couple of minor league call-ups bridging the gap between the quality starting pitching and Bobby Jenks. Now that the Sox have dumped Contreas out of the rotation, they have a chance to win every day. (I don't believe Gavin Floyd is any kind of long-term answer, but Contreas has been as bad as any pitcher in the AL this season. Gio Gonzalez in September would be fun to watch.) The offense was never going to continue to all hit at their 10-20 percentile, so combined with a bullpen that is no longer competing with the Devil Rays, I suspect that the White Sox and Twins will end up having the best second half records in the Central. Oh and don't forget the winning magic which follows Scott Podsednik. (White Sox are 20-12 when he is on the field.)
Ran across this blurb in a Rolling Stone review of this past weekend's Lollapalooza.
“Last year we played here and I said it was the most fun I ever had at 3 PM. This is shaping up to be the most fun I’ve ever had,” proclaimed Craig Finn two songs into the Hold Steady’s unhinged late-afternoon set. If not the finest, the singer-guitarist’s quintet made a watertight case for at least being the day’s most jubilant and ecstatic performance. Finn understands that a frontman needs to be unafraid to act a fool. Keyed-up and rambunctious, the bespectacled singer pointed, hopped and shuffled while playing the role of an inebriated storyteller. Drinking (“Party Pit”), driving (“Multitude of Casualties”), drugs (“Cattle and the Creeping Things”), dealers (“You Can Make Him Like You”) and sex (“Southtown Girls”) fueled the location- and character-rich tales, alternately shot through with barroom swagger, driving power chords and Southern rock abandon. Adorned in a Ron Gardenhire Minnesota Twins jersey, Finn also spoke of the I-35W bridge collapse that impacted his beloved town, and did a sign of the cross after mentioning the Mississippi River during “Stuck Between Stations.” A throng of converts soaked it all in, but the biggest fan of all was Finn, whose uplifting presence and merry mood caused anyone within earshot to grin.
If you have not taken my advice and listened to one of my Top Releases of 2006 (No.9), how about giving the Hold Steady a chance now? I mean how many Indie rocker lead singers wear a baseball manager jersey to the biggest gig they have ever done? If that wasn't a blatant stab at trying to get readers from the Toaster to pick up their record, I don't know what else it could be.
One of the things that makes me not hate the amount of driving I do is listening to my XM radio during baseball season. It is especially fun when there are day games. The negative part is that XM only broadcasts whoever is the home team. It never gets worse than when the game is in Yankee Stadium, as John Sterling and Susan Waldman are painful. Sterling sounds pompous and Waldman is like listening to Fran Drescher announce a ballgame. How about saving some money by not signing some free agent starting pitcher who will implode and hire away a couple of quality announcers for the radio broadcasts?