High Five: Rays, A’s and A.J.

Five things worth some skin up high . . .

Rays: As impressive as the Rays’ run to the top of the toughest division in baseball has been, even more impressive is how they’ve done it, or more specifically who has been at the middle of it all. In a word: kids.

Chris Archer, 24, twirls a two-hit shutout of the Yankees. Matt Moore, 24, couldn’t lose at first and continues to craft a strong season. Wil Myers, 22, don’t waste any time showing what all the fuss was about.

You have to give credit not only to the front office that keeps putting the team back together again but to Joe Maddon, a one-of-a-kind skipper who knows how to push the right buttons between the lines and between the ears.

A’s: This is a ride that just won’t stop, and with some great 1969 tunes and duds they had going over the weekend, this team is hard not to notice. They’re at least starting to see the top of some power rankings (No. 4 on MLB.com’s — http://mlb.mlb.com/news/power_rankings/index.jsp — so maybe they don’t need bright yellow to get people’s attention.

A.J.: Just watching A.J. Burnett pitch these days, it’s evident why the Pirates made the move two winters ago to get the veteran right-hander. With a resume that began with the 2003 Marlins that stunned everyone with their World Series victory and some ups and downs in between, Burnett’s delivering power pitches like he’s in his 20s again but definitely has that air about him of a leader who’s primed to lead a team to the promised land.

Bluebeard: Yeah, it’s all over Twitter already — dang, bad puns really get around quickly these days.

Facial hair aside, good for Brian Wilson, who signed with the Dodgers on Tuesday, and good for the Dodgers-Giants rivalry, which figures to have a special something by the next meeting. That won’t come until Sept. 12 at Dodger Stadium, and it’s looking like only one team will have postseason aspirations at that point. Between now and then it’ll be interesting to see how the Beard plays out in Dodger Blue. As long as he’s healthy and strong to the end — as hopefully Giants fans still root for him to be — it should make for a very interesting reunion at AT&T Park the last week of the season.

Paul in Hall: In this business, you meet people years ago and run into them years later, and you get a sense of the real person inside. You hear about people for decades and never get to work with them, or against them, or alongside them, but when you do it’s a pleasure. Some people are universally liked, some not. Some really get it and do the job, others are out for themselves, just trying to make a name.

And somewhere in the best parts of all that is Paul Hagen, the MLB.com newbie (well, sorta) who was honored as the J.G. Spink Award winner at the Hall of Fame last weekend. This is someone universally liked, respected and appreciated, with his influence extending well beyond the confines of Philadelphia, where he spent a quarter-century covering the Phillies and baseball at the Daily News. He’s been with MLB.com only since 2011, but already he’s proven to be a terrific teammate and class act.

And now Cooperstown. Well done all the way around, Paul.

Yakyu haiku

Yakyu means baseball in Japanese. Haiku means fun in English. OK, not really.

Bucs on the river

Almost August, muggy, warm

The real deal this year

 

Son of Weekender, v. 2.0: The Sequel – Edition 1

A few thoughts as we reach the weekend . . .

  • Braun reaction speaks loudly

Maybe we have turned the corner, veering in the right direction smack in the middle of the ugly wreck of the Biogenesis investigation.

Watching the Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens trials from start to finish, one got the notion that players might support each other through thick and thin — or at least be 50-50 about it. In the darkest days of PED use, there clearly was an element of players circling the wagons about using steroids and other substances.

The reaction to the Ryan Braun suspension this week was decidedly different than what we’ve seen before, with a ton of players coming right out and saying that he cheated, and that those who keep looking for the pharmaceutical shortcuts are cheating the game. Player after player has said what Braun has done is not acceptable, some calling for much harsher penalties for any infraction.

This ugly era isn’t over, but it just might have turned the corner. As long as those dissenting voices are true, the one group that could possibly turn the tide away from PED use is finally on the case: the players themselves.

  • Big news in Wrigleyville

It’s hard not to think of the 1993 fire sale in San Diego in watching the Cubs sell off some top Major League talent this summer, but 20 years after the Padres traded Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Bruce Hurst and others in what were clearly salary-motivated deals, there is a difference.

This Cubs operation, which you could say dates back to last year’s move of Ryan Dempster, is something the Cubs didn’t have to do but were motivated to do in order to move forward with Theo Epstein’s vision of the team’s future. That gave him enough leverage to get what he wanted out of these deals, thus far. (Speaking of differences, how much different can this experience be from Epstein’s first GM job with the Red Sox, a team that was loaded and ready for history?)

Whatever happens, things are under construction on the South Side, from the home clubhouse through the rest of the ballpark, which will undergo a half-billion-dollar renovation in the coming years.

Whether it all adds up to the World Series they’ve been craving for so long remains to be seen, and it certainly is looking like a process that won’t happen overnight.

  • Tick-tock, Deadline looms

With time ticking toward next Thursday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline, probably the biggest name being bandied about is Jake Peavy, whose first start back in action after a fractured rib drew about 10 scouts. Remember, it was a dramatic waiting game before Peavy was traded from the Padres. First, a big deal with the Braves fell through in the offseason, and then Peavy turned down a deal in June before finally agreeing to go to the White Sox at the very last minute before the Deadline.

Peavy seems to have a different mindset this time around, fully aware his name is out there and seemingly receptive to moving on to a new venture. The idea of the Braves being in the running, which only popped up with the horrific injury to Tim Hudson earlier this week, seems pretty intriguing considering Peavy’s an Alabama native.

We’ll see if that’s a fit, but it certainly seems like Peavy’s on the move again.

Yakyu haiku

Yakyu means baseball in Japanese. Haiku means fun in English. OK, not really.

Control what you can,

That’s what boys of summer say

Boy, some days are hard

 

 

Different test for A’s

It already has been a tale of two seasons, and if you add the second half of last year and the first half of this one, the A’s stack up with any team in the Majors, if not above.

What’s in store now is a test they haven’t faced during this surge: playing from ahead.

It’s a different animal when you’re on top of the division or at least in the lead of the playoff hunt rather than playing the role of the pesky underdog. True, this team with its payroll and experience still has some underdog in it. But after combining a strong first half with last year’s remarkable run to the AL West title, they’re a little bit more on the radar than they were a year ago. (Then again, maybe they’re still anonymous, considering Josh Donaldson had an All-Star break rather than a debut.)

Point is, they’re a team to watch early in this second half. They have their weaknesses, like any team, but they have a pitching staff with the lowest ERA in the league, and that’s going to get you a long way as long as it holds up.

Not to make them always have to prove something, but the A’s do kind of have something to prove down the stretch this year. And if they do, well, they really might be on to something.

Yakyu haiku

Yakyu means baseball in Japanese. Haiku means fun in English. OK, not really.

It is not springtime,

It is the heat of summer,

Wither Hamilton?

 

 

Lincecum rumors are beyond freaky

Every Trade Deadline season, something pops up that just makes you shake your head and wonder. This year, it’s the Tim Lincecum rumors, which make no sense on any level, and finally Giants GM Brian Sabean threw some water on them this week, albeit with the standard caveats.

It’s always been a weird contract situation with the Freak. His salary blew up in historic fashion because he’d done historic things, winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards in his second and third seasons in the Majors. His first arbitration case broke new ground for pitchers, and the $22 million he’s making this season is an extension of that amazing rise to the top of his profession.

Since then, that level of performance obviously has dropped, and he’s not at the top of his profession. But he’s having a better 2013, he can still throw a 148-pitch no-hitter (like, a pitch a pound, man), and he still was as valuable as any other player — among many — in the Giants’ run to the 2012 World Series, unselfishly and uncannily jumping into a relief role that proved vital to the team’s survival and ultimate success. Few players have made that adjustment midstream, and with such blatant focus on the team goal. You could see the appreciation for that and the rest of how Lincecum has handled his slide in the faces of his teammates as he was mobbed on the field in San Diego at the end of his no-hitter.

Point blank, this isn’t the type of trade that makes sense for a team like the Giants. To do it, they’d basically be turning the page on a World Series era, at least symbolically, and they’d be very hard pressed to get any prospects they need while letting the money go. Really, what’s the upside? It’s just one of those, ‘Gee, he’s a free agent at season’s end and the Giants are in fourth place, so … obviously.’ Well, no, not obviously.

If he goes as a free agent, he goes. Maybe he will, and maybe he’ll become a reliever when he does. Maybe he’ll stay at a discount, maybe he won’t. But to say you get nothing for him if he goes as a free agent is to demean what he’s done in the past. Say what you will about bang for the buck the last couple of regular seasons, but this guy has delivered plenty over his still short career with the Giants.

Bottom line, to trade Lincecum would send so many messages this Giants organization hasn’t sent in years. It’d be a game-changer if they went that far. As Sabean suggested, it’s hard to even imagine.

Yakyu haiku

July bakes the East

Baseball back from cooling off

October comes soon

 

This blog is a joke

Yes, that’s right. This blog is a joke.

It began as an attempt to hit on a subject or two pretty much every day of the baseball season, a tribute to the daily grind that is the marathon baseball season. Inconsistent or sputtering doesn’t cut it. This thing never really got running.

But it’s still here, and certainly baseball’s grind is still going strong. So coming out of the All-Star break seems as good a time as any to break it out again.

The reason this post is going up first is to explain a little bit about that attempt to connect again. Sure, there have been assignments and duties and slices of life that have intervened over the last couple of years, but lost along the way was the very essence of why one writes a blog: one wants to communicate to the world, show an area of expertise, display a personality and, best of all, do it through the written word. That’s why Friar John’s Diary was invented — wow, it was 16 years ago on July 4. (Not to get all Al Gore on you, but not many blogs back then.) The idea is to write, and if people read and enjoy it, great. But write.

So, back to it, or trying. Whether the blog will continue to be a joke remains to be seen. But at least it might be a joke on its own merits.

Zito shifts NLCS momentum

It was all down to Barry Zito, and he delivered. What a game he pitched, and now the Giants have grabbed some momentum in the National League Championship Series.

This postseason has been a lot like Friday night. Just when you think you have it figured out, something changes. The Reds were the best team in the world, and then the Giants took three at Cincinnati. The Tigers had the A’s against the ropes and then had to fight for their lives. And we don’t even have to go there on the Cardinals in their NLDS comeback, do we?

Out of all of it, the most gutsy outing by a starter this postseason might have been turned in by Zito on Friday. He worked in that curveball like he hadn’t in years, making a mid- to high-80s fastball look a lot faster. It was exactly what the Giants needed, and for the guy to come up big in this situation puts to rest a lot of struggles, from the ERA and salary being very high to being left off the postseason roster in 2010.

And so it’s back to San Francisco for Game 6. Should be electric orange.

As Game 5 approaches…

With the hours ticking by toward Game 5 of the NLCS, it’s a lot easier to imagine the Cardinals closing it out than the Giants hanging on. Not that it’s a done deal by any stretch, but it seems that way.

It’s just that the Cardinals’ top-to-bottom offense presents a challenge to any pitcher right now, and you have to wonder a.) what that will mean for Barry Zito, and b.) what the Giants can possibly do if they have to cut him short again like in the Division Series. Some early offense off Lance Lynn from the Giants wouldn’t hurt, either — obviously.

While the Giants have proven their resiliency in a trying season and that amazing comeback in Cincinnati, it really should be noted at this point is just how resilient the Cardinals are as an organization. They really must have had a post-Pujols plan, because it’s working out quite well — using a lot of homegrown talent. With free agent Carlos Beltran hobbled, in steps Matt Carpenter, and so on.

All things considered, it really seems like it’ll come down to whether the Giants can keep the Cardinals’ merry-go-round from spinning like it did in Game 4.

We’ll see how it turns out. Either we’ll have a World Series matchup set with a Tigers team that’s suddenly very tough to beat, or we’ll have a Game 6 in San Francisco on Sunday with a big momentum swing toward the Giants.

Memories …

A #FollowFriday for @JohnSchlegelMLB from the @NYDNSportsITeam sparked some memories of the Clemens trial, a 10-week journey into America’s legal system, the life and career of one of baseball’s most celebrated pitchers and, well, whatever else you might make of it after an across-the-board acquittal.

The days were long at times, and the rhetoric thick, sometimes with phrases repeated by attorneys enough that those who watched the whole thing could almost predict when they might be said. Here’s a top 10, actually created during some of the rain delays at the bench back in D.C.:

The Top 10 Things We’ll Be Glad We Won’t Have to Hear Again Once the Clemens Trial is Over

10.) Court’s indulgence.

9.) Objection! Asked and answered!

8.) Someone has a doctor’s appointment/teaching commitment/relative’s graduation/trip to Europe.

7.) Competent tribunal.

6.) 50-50.

5.) Ate Vioxx like Skittles. (Or Napercin like M&Ms.)

4.) Mr. MacNaMay.

3.) It’s not like I was doing heroin or something crazy.

2.) I want to talk to you a little bit about pus.

And the No. 1 thing we’ll be glad we won’t have to hear again once the Clemens trial is over…

1.) Booty shot!

Somewhere there’s an alternate version of K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty” but perhaps that’s better left up to the imagination.

Yakyu haiku                            

Yakyu means baseball in Japanese, and haiku means fun in English. Well, not literally.

Tigers’ roar echoes

Fall Classic a Motown hit

Beware of the stripes

Shameless plugs

A few more links to stories under this byline in the last few days:

Tigers feeling great as they wait out NLCS

Stormy weather sets up double shot of Game 4s

Tigers aware it’s no cinch to clinch in postseason

Confessions with FJ

Hey, blogging’s hard. Kudos to those who keep it going every day or close to it.

Click … click … click: Images of 2012 postseason, so far

As the sun sets on San Francisco and Game 1 gets under way to end a baseball week like no other, a few of the indelible images this postseason already has imprinted on the mind, in order of appearance:

Brandon Phillips channeling Derek Jeter circa 2001, making a diving backup play at first base to save a couple of bases in NLCS Game 1 for the Reds.

Bronson Arroyo sticking that leg out straight and throwing everything crooked

Coco Crisp dropping a routine fly one day and making as spectacular a running, leaping catch as you’ll ever see the next

The A’s crowd, practically lunging at the field like animals, going rabid over the tying and then winning runs in Game 4 against the Tigers. Amazing.

Mat Latos not being able to even watch and catcher Ryan Hanigan turning his head in disgust as Buster Posey’s grand slam is out at the crack of the bat.

Justin Verlander receiving a well-deserved Champagne dousing in the Tigers’ clubhouse after a brilliant Game 5 performance.

Joe Girardi pinch-hitting for A-Rod, and Raul Ibanez delivering homers not once but twice.

That super slo-mo zoom of the foul pole at Yankee Stadium showing Nate McLouth’s ball sure looking like it nicked the foul side of the pole.

Jeter down, carried off and out of the postseason. Enough said.

Robinson Cano mouthing the word as he walked through the dugout after falling to 0-for-25 on the postseason: “Wow.”

Girardi finally letting loose of some seriously pent-up emotion and frustration on Jeff Nelson, and you really don’t need replay to know why.

Sergio Romo, who has been the designated receiver of ceremonial first pitches the last few years and almost never misses an assignment, jogging out a little late for Game 1 of the NLCS because the Giants were busy doing their scrum thing in the dugout.

And there’s much more to come …

Yakyu haiku

Yakyu means baseball in Japanese, and haiku means fun in English. Well, not literally.

Bayside wind chills bones

October bathed in orange

Red clashes, danger

Shameless plugs

Links to stories under this byline in the last week or so:

If ALCS opener is any indication, more fun awaits

After thrilling Division Series, more surprises await

T.I.G.F.: Thankful It’s Game Five-day in AL, NL

Despite loss, A’s not hanging their heads low

Ninth-inning rallies are nothing new to plucky A’s

FJ’s confession

This is really when the Grind grinds along, day after day of amazing baseball. But this 2012 postseason has been off the charts so far. Wears one out in a very good way.

 

Another day on the ledge in the Bay Area

Groundhog Day: In this business, you’re always preparing for the clinch when the series is on the brink. On Monday, both the Giants and the A’s were up against it, and the “obit” thoughts start swirling. You know: Ah, tough way to end it, but there was a perfect game and a likely MVP performance. And, oh, what an amazing array of A’s rookies did to overtake the two-time American League champs.

  Uh, call the rewrite desk — they’re both still alive, and they both did it in a fashion that showed they can stand up to adversity with pluck. The Giants couldn’t hit, but they could score just enough — and they definitely pitched. The A’s shut down and shut out a powerful offense with clockwork pitching and excellence in the field, adding just enough offense.

  Listen, they’re still on the watch today as both play in a Game 4, the Giants on the road and the A’s at home. But both certainly showed under Game 3 pressure that they’re up to the task.

  • Hunter for October: You know, you could see Hunter Pence being that guy who flies into a speech like he did before Game 3 in Cincinnati, just has that look in his eye like he’s about to go off, in a good way. Sounds like we know where he stands about this club, and Giants should think seriously about installing him in right field this offseason.
  • 4 Jump St.: Coco Crisp’s catch was the only flyout Brett Anderson gave up with his six strikeouts and 11 groundouts. If not for Crisp, Prince Fielder’s shot might have flown right out and changed the game hugely. Full speed and outstretched as high and long as he could go, Crisp made one of the sweetest plays of the year — and much more indicative of his defensive talents than the drop in Detroit.
  • DatDude: Speaking of great plays…this one from a few days ago: Brandon Phillips’ amazing backup at first base in NLDS Game 1 belongs in the same category as the Jeter play from 2001, just dialed down a couple of notches in terms of situation and location on the field. But, wow, great baseball both mentally and physically.
  • Rage for the Machine: It’s just impossible not to laugh when watching the crazies above the right-field scoreboard at the Coli when Grant Balfour comes in the game, raging. They’re in full-on thrash metal mode, arms punching away in completely spastic windmills…and a few of them made it through the whole song. (No giggling in the press box!)

Yakyu haiku                            

Yakyu means baseball in Japanese, and haiku means fun in English. Well, not literally.

Nation’s capital sunsplash,

only eight decades.

Natitude adjusts.

Shameless plugs

Links to stories under this byline in the last week or so:

Despite layoff, Anderson proves he was ready to go

Griffin’s rise leads to A’s biggest game yet

Playoff debut to validate Anderson’s comeback

Giants need to follow 2012 script in NLDS

Lincecum steps up in unfamiliar relief role

Bumgarner short on birthday candles, long on talent

Giants, A’s bring playoff fun back to busy Bay Area

Confessions with FJ

Starting this stuff again, the thought occurs: How do people keep up with these things and Twitter all the time, it’s a lot of effort. Perhaps it’s a good exercise in focus and organization…eh, not that that’s a problem around here. Ahem, right.

The Grind of October begins

It’s been a while, but let’s get back to the Grind:

Paradise City: This is going to be an unbelievable weekend in and around San Francisco, and the Giants’ playoff games are just part of it. Blue Angels, America’s Cup, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Niners, parade in North Beach, the list is incredible. All that, and you have to find a way to watch the A’s in Detroit. (Wrote a little story about it the other day.) Heading down to cover the NLDS and ready for anything/everything…

Capital gang: From one who spent half the season in Washington, D.C., a tip of the cap goes out to the Nats, who played well as the Clemens trial began, stayed hot right through the acquittal and, sure enough, ran off with the NL East while the Rocket was pitching for a team called the Skeeters. Not sure you can make that up. Seriously, great job by Davey Johnson and a fascinating squad.

Skippers: One of the privileges of the job has been to cover some excellent managers, and Bruce Bochy and Dusty Baker are right there at the top. Having covered Bochy off and on since he first was hired by the Padres in 1995 — guess who asked then-GM Randy Smith whether Bochy would get a big head over his promotion (rim shot!) — it’s hard not to be happy for the big guy with the dry and sharp wit and the Marlboro Man walk. As for Dusty, there simply is nothing more important than the fact that he’s back managing with a clean bill of health. One of the game’s true singular personalities, Baker deserves as loud an ovation at AT&T as anyone Saturday.

Ahem, attention: Um, speaking of managers, but shouldn’t Bob Melvin get a bump from his team winning its division? No knock on Buck Showalter, but BoMel took a team with beaucoup rookies and an all-rookie rotation at the end of the year to the promised land. MOY stuff, right there.

Great sight: Billy Beane, absolutely doused and pied by the A’s players during a postgame interview Wednesday. Biggest smile we’ve seen from Billy since Brad Pitt was cast — ha, we kid. Great moment in A’story, seriously.

A’s-Tigers: Right where they left off in the 2006 ALCS, right? Well, no. No players are left on the A’s that were there then. The Tigers? Justin Verlander, Omar Infante back after many travels, it’s Delmon Young instead of Dmitri. Oh, and Brandon Inge is on the other side in green and gold, although injured.

Yakyu haiku

Yakyu means baseball in Japanese, and haiku means fun in English. Well, not literally.

Wild Card Friday, leaves fall soft

Take a swing, one shot

Two dream, others awaken

Confessions with FJ

This is weird, but something just seemed right about starting up the blog again. After a while, it was that awkward, too-long-between-calls thing like when you haven’t talked to a friend forever. Then it really gets to be too long and, well, somebody finally has to pick up the phone. Well, here’s to picking up the phone again. The aim is to at least get some thoughts out about the most wonderful time of the year — October baseball — and go from there. Happy Postseason to one and all.

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