Sunday, February 1, 2009

Interview With a President

Perhaps as I write this, Ahmad Rashad is interviewing President Barack Obama as part of NBC's Super Bowl preview. I got to thinking how I might interview the new president. Being that he's a sports fan, I'd have to go with the traditional sports coach questions, and hope that he had a good sense of humor, which I think he does.

Me - OK, Mr. President. What a month! Inaugurated as President of the United States. Twice! Moved into the White House! Danced with your beautiful wife ten times in one night! Now a Super Bowl pregame interview with me. What's next? Are you going straight to Disneyland?

Obama - It's been quite a run for sure. Just living under the same roof as my family has been a big treat. The White House basketball court needs a lot of work, but isn't beyond hope. Have to decline that Disneyland trip. Sasha and Malia are just getting adjusted to their new school. Oh yeah, Michelle. Can you believe her and me? It's been fifteen years and I'm still a little stunned.

Me - I don't mean to dwell on the past, but I hope you'll comment on that amazing come-from-behind win over Senator Clinton in the Democratic Conference Final. I mean, she was preseason #1 in every poll. The pollsters could hardly spell your name to vote for you. How did you pull that off?

Obama - First let me say that Senator Clinton was a very tough opponent and can be proud of the fight she put up. We knew we were down bigtime, but we just kept playing. Indiana was big. I don't think many saw that coming. I was so impressed with Senator Clinton that I added her to my staff for next year.

Me - Will you be calling her at 3 a.m?

Obama - No comment. Can I call you at 3 a.m?

Me - And the General Election Bowl Sponsored by CNN, FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC and to a lesser extent C-SPAN, MSNBC and Comedy Central? That one seemed to go pretty well. When did you know you had it won?

Obama - When Aretha sang at the Inauguration. Oh, that was a little cold. Sorry, Aretha. You know I've got plenty of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for you. And that hat. Who saw that coming? No seriously, a lot of folks don't remember that we were tied after the two Convention Bowls. McCain brought in that rookie QB Palin. She really shook things up. Brought some new excitement to their side. But we stuck to our game plan. Really didn't make many adjustments, other than trying to dial down the celebrity meter a little. We just kept trying to execute. Things worked out. Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania - the big close ones all broke our way. Helps to be a little lucky.

Me - Did you think McCain was getting desperate when he brought Joe The Plumber in late in the game. I mean, he hadn't played a down all season. In fact, he hadn't played since high school.

Obama - I'm sure McCain just did what he thought was best for him at the time. I'm not going to second guess him after the fact. He's a great one and he put up a great fight.

Me - You mentioned execution. Talk about your team. An almost flawless effort. The Rev. Wright thing kept bouncing back at you. Somehow they minimized the damage.

Obama - I can't say enough about my team. Two essentially perfect game plans for a rookie in his first postseason. Wish I could send them all to Disneyland, but I need them here.

Me - And your fans. A lot of teams refer to their fans as their 12th man. In your case, the number goes up to about 60 million. Talk about them a bit.

Obama - Oh man. Now you might have to cut me off. Our fans - 60 million is probably a conservative figure. I did pretty well in some mock high school elections and even down to the lower grades. Sasha tells me it was a shutout in her second grade class in Chicago. They made phone calls, attended rallies, donated money, laundered uniforms, you name it. When we get this country back on its feet, we're gonna have a day for them at Disneyland. Count on it, friends.

Me - Let's look ahead to next season. The Problems of Our Nation and the World. Wow, are they tough!? Like the Ravens' 2000 defense and the 2007 Patriots offense with Tom Dempsey on the sideline ready to launch 60-yard field goals, coached by a cross between Don Shula, George Halas and God. And you've gotta play the entire schedule at once. How are you gonna handle that challenge? Can you get it done in one term?

Obama - Well I wish I could give you the pat answer and say we're gonna play 'em one game at a time, but we've got to attack on all fronts - the economy, energy, health care, our two wars, foreign policy, replacing the BCS bowls with a national playoff. My team is real busy. They get a four-hour break this afternoon to watch the game, but they have to back to work at halftime (after The Boss, of course) if the game is more than three touchdowns apart. Honestly, guys and gals, I'll make it up to you.

As for the one term question. We'll play as hard as we can for one term. If the good people of the United States see fit to give us a second in 2012, we'll keep working for them.

Me - You know I gotta ask this one. Who do you like today? Steelers or Diamondbacks, I mean Cardinals.

Obama - I ought to be neutral. President of all the people, you know. But dang it, swing state Pennsylvania brought me 25 electoral votes. Arizona went for my opponent. Gotta root for the Men of Steel.

Me - A score?

Obama - Steelers 23 Cardinals 15 - The Cards score late and convert a two-point play to get close, but the Steelers recover the onsides kick to wrap up the win.

Me - Wow that's my score! GMTA. Who's your MVP?

Obama - Now you're trying to pin me down. Troy Polamalu maybe. We Pacific Island guys gotta stick together. Wish I had some of his hair.

Me - Just one more. You're a big roundball fan. Who makes the NBA Finals this year? Can LeBron and the Cavs break up the Celtics and Lakers party?

Obama - The Lakes look tough. Did you hear that Andrew Bynum got hurt? That could slow them down, but probably not until the Finals. Celtics or Cavs? That's a toughie. I think the Celts experience is good for one more year, but look out for the Cavs in 2010.

Me - And if LeBron takes it all then, is he on your short list for second term Secretary of State, as a Nike campaign in production seems to indicate?

Obama - Now you're getting way ahead of things. (Quiets, pantomimes a long shot with LBJ's trademark follow through). (Whispering) Sweet!

The End

Monday, January 19, 2009

Future Baseball Hall of Famers Still Active in Baseball

January 19, 2009 Update - Congratulations to Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice for their election into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Henderson was elected on first try by a wide margin (almost 95% of the vote); Rice on his last by a whisker (76% vs. 75% required).

Here's an update on the prospects of various candidates for future induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Sure things if they stopped playing today

Ken Griffey, Jr. - Junior hasn't announced his retirement, but by the same token he doesn't have a job for the 2009 season. I'll leave him on this list. He's a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Randy Johnson - The Big Unit will be pitching for his 300th career win sometime this season with the Giants. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer whether or not he gets it, though 300 wins could propel him toward unanimous selection.

Tom Glavine - Missed most of 2008 season with injuries; trying to get healthy and find a job in 2009. In any event, with 300+ career wins, Glavine's a first-ballot lock whenever he's eligible - no later than 2015 as it's likely he'll pitch no more than one more year.

John Smoltz - Missed most of 2008 season with injuries, but has a job with the Red Sox in 2009. Needs to get healthy. If he gets healthy and does well, he could play beyond 2009. Effective retirement after 2008 is also a possibility if he doesn't recover. With 200+ wins and 150+ saves and a sterling postseason record, Smoltz will get into the Hall of Fame the first time he's eligible.

Trevor Hoffman - The all-time saves leader will be saving games for a new club in 2009, the Milwaukee Brewers. Pitching just 40-50 innings per year, Hoffman could go on for awhile. In any event, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer whenever he retires.

Mariano Riviera - At age 38, this amazing pitcher had one of his greatest seasons - 1.40 ERA, 39 saves, 0.665 WHIP, 6 (yes six) BB and 77 Ks in 71 IP. His 482 saves are second all-time to Hoffman's 554 (516 to 558 if postseason is included). Arguably the greatest reliever of all time, Rivera is a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer and could top 95% of the vote.

Alex Rodriguez - A-Rod continues his inexorable march up the all-time leader ranks. At age 33, he's 12th all-time in HRs (553), 30th in RBIs, 42nd in runs, figures that would put him in the Hall of Fame if he retired tomorrow even without a World Series ring, which the Yankees' acquisition of CC Sabathia and Mark Teixiera makes more likely. Unanimous election in 15-20 years is likely if A-Rod beats Bonds' career HR record.

Derek Jeter - Jeter's got the stats (2,500 hits) and World Series rings (4) to get into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot if he retired tomorrow, which he won't. Some day in the 2020s, "Mr. Baseball" Jeter will be a first-ballot, and perhaps unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame.

Ivan Rodriguez - Pudge is still looking for a job for 2009. He'll find one if he's willing to work cheap. Otherwise, he'll enter the Hall of Fame in 2014 with one of the best offensive and defensive resumes in catching history.

Manny Ramirez - Manny doesn't have a job for 2009 either, but it's unlikely he won't get one. With 527 regular season HRs and 28 more in the postseason, Ramirez will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer whenever he's eligible, though unlikely to gain unanimous support because of concern about "Manny being Manny."

Pedro Martinez - After struggling with injuries the last two years, Martinez's career may come to an end. Even with seven seasons in the top four of Cy Young voting (three wins), Martinez may not gain first ballot election given that he only has 214 career wins, but he'll make it eventually on the strength of a .684 career winning percentage and 2.91 ERA.

Jim Thome - Thome finished the 2008 season with 541 career HRs, 14th all-time. His 966 OPS is 18th all-time. Now a full-time DH, Thome probably has a couple more seasons left, making him eligible for the Hall in about 2016, at which time his 600 career HRs should make him a first-ballot inductee.

Chipper Jones - A fabulous 2008 season (.364 batting average) pushes Jones into the "sure thing" category. Playing most of his career at 3B, Chipper has racked up 408 HRs and a 956 OPS. He won an MVP and played for many good teams, including one World Series winner in Atlanta. He might not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he retired today, but he'd get in soon. When he does retire, Jones will have the full resume of a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Would be sure thing except for steroid issue

Sammy Sosa - Sosa wants to play, but didn't in 2008 and probably won't in 2009. I'll keep him on the "active" list until next year.

Would be sure thing except for DH issue

Frank Thomas - "The Big Hurt" is the right-handed version of Jim Thome, with a few more DH games and a higher batting average. After a disappointing 2008, Thomas will likely retire when he can't find a job for 2009. I think Thomas will get in, though probably not on the first ballot.

Don't need much more, if anything

Jeff Kent - 2008 was likely Kent's last season. He'll finish with 377 HRs, 1500+ RBIs and an 856 OPS - great offensive figures for a second baseman. He'll probably make the Hall of Fame some day, but not on the first ballot.

Vladimir Guerrero - Vlad finished the season with 392 career HRs, 2100+ hits, 1268 RBIs and a .323 batting average - well on the way to the Hall of Fame, but probably a couple decent seasons from being a sure thing.

Curt Schilling - Schilling couldn't come back from injury in 2008. I expect that his career is over. With just 216 career wins, Curt isn't a lock for the Hall, though his 10-2, 2.23 ERA record in postseason starts won't hurt. I predict he'll get in, although probably not on the first ballot.

Gary Sheffield - After his worst offensive season since 1991 (and this as a DH), Sheffield will probably finish his career with 499 HRs, one short of the magic mark. He won't get a lot of points for being a nice guy either. My guess is that Sheffield will spend a long time on the Hall of Fame ballot, and like Jim Rice, finally get in.

Great careers, but need more milestones

Todd Helton - Helton had a rough 2008 that puts his Hall of Fame candidacy at risk. His batting average (.328) and OPS (1002) are terrific (though perhaps inflated by Coors Field), but his career totals (1900 hits, 310 HRs, 1100 RBIs) are a little thin for a 1B candidate. Helton needs to rebound or he'll fall into the "promising, but falling off" category.

Carlos Delgado - A great 2008 (particularly the second half) propels Delgado into the Hall of Fame discussion. He's hit 469 career HRs and has a 929 career OPS. Another good season would push Delgado over 500 HRs and make him a very viable candidate, though not a likely first-ballot inductee.

Once promising, but have fallen off lately

Nomar Garciaparra - Once on a clear HoF trajectory, Nomar is now hanging on to his career at just age 34. His current career stats make him a marginal HoF candidate, supported mostly by a .314 BA and 888 OPS for a shortstop. Like Don Mattingly, Nomar will probably stay on the ballot a long time, with his hopes eventually landing with the Veterans' Committee.

Andruw Jones - Andruw probably killed his HoF chances with a hideous 2008 season (.158 BA, 76 Ks in 209 AB). His career may even be over. Ten Gold Gloves and 377 HRs might get Jones past the 5% hurdle, but he won't ever be a Hall of Famer.

Scott Rolen - 2008 didn't revive Rolen's Hall of Fame prospects. Physical problems will end his career soon. At this point, he wouldn't survive the 5% threshold.

Jorge Posada - An injury-plagued 2008 reversed whatever momentum Posada generated after a great 2007.

Long careers but still not sure by any means

Omar Vizquel - Vizquel's career is probably over after a very weak season with the Giants at age 41. Eventually, even eleven Gold Gloves and 2600+ career hits will leave Omar on the outside looking in.

David Wells - Boomer's 239-157 career record will be considered by voters in 2013 and may propel him over the 5% threshold. His 4.14 career ERA will keep him out of the Hall for a long time - maybe forever.

Mike Mussina - Probably has the best shot to make it of the players on this list. He retired after the 2008 season with 270 career wins and .638 winning percentage. A 3.68 career ERA will hurt his chances, but I think he'll make it someday, though certainly not on the first ballot.

Miguel Tejada - Miguel has piled up some great offensive numbers for a SS (272 HR, 1900 hits), but has been touched by the steroid issue. He did not have a great 2008 and may be on a downslope at age 34.

Jason Giambi - Giambi had a nice comeback season in 2008 and has a job with the A's for 2009. He has 396 career HRs, but being a 1B/DH and being involved in the steroid issue, he'll have to get to 500 HRs to have any chance at the HoF.

Andy Pettitte - Andy's steady 14-year career may be nearing its end. Supporting his HoF candidacy - .629 winning percentage and 14 postseason wins. Working against him - just 215 career wins at a 3.89 ERA. His career resembles that of David Cone, who missed the 5% threshold this year.

Jose Mesa - Retired after 2007. 4.38 ERA - no chance.

Billy Wagner - Career in jeopardy after injury that will keep him out for 2009. Fabulous numbers thru 2008 - 385 saves, 2.40 ERA, 1.009 WHIP, 1066 Ks in 818 IP. That last figure might keep Wagner out - just 818 IP. Once he gets on the ballot, he'll stay there. I don't know if he'll make it. Bruce Sutter might the best comp - he made it after a long stay on the ballot.

Bobby Abreu - A good, steady player, but rarely a great one, Bobby has a lot of work to do to become a clear HoF candidate.

Luis Gonzalez - Gonzo was great in 2001, just good in his many other seasons. His best stat is doubles where is total of 596 is 15th all-time. He probably stays on the ballot, but ends up with the Veterans Committee and never getting in.

Edgar Renteria - Now an everyday SS for 13 years, Renteria has 2,070 career hits, but still doesn't feel like a HoFer (just five All-Stars, three Silver Sluggers and two Gold Gloves).

Johnny Damon - After 14 years, Damon has 2,270 hits and a .289 BA. Unless he can somehow hang on and reach 3,000 hits (at least five years work), Damon won't make the Hall.

Playing at H of F level but early in career - special category

Albert Pujols - Have played just eight seasons, Pujols wouldn't even make the ballot if his career ended early, but two more seasons even remotely like the previous eight will put the best right-handed hitter of the 21st century on a clear HoF track.

Ichiro Suzuki - The AL's version of Pujols (albeit a singles-hitting, rather than power-hitting machine), Ichiro probably needs more than two more good seasons to eventually make the HofF (though 2,200 hits and a .330 average might get the job done). At age 34, Ichiro should have four or so more seasons to put his candidacy on strong footing.

Decent foundations, but need many more good years

Troy Glaus - A 3B with excellent power numbers (300+ HR, almost 900 RBI), but weak in other areas (.256 BA, 1271 hits). He needs to play several more productive years to become a serious candidate.

Lance Berkman - In nine solid seasons, Berkman has amassed 1449 hits, 288 HRs and a 973 OPS. Another five good seasons will make Lance a viable candidate.

Carlos Beltran - In 10 seasons he's hit 250+ HRs and stolen 250+ bases, scored and driven in about 1000 runs, while establishing himself as a Gold Glove CF. Five more good years and a World Series ring would make Carlos a strong candidate.

David Ortiz - After five straight top five MVP seasons, Ortiz fell off badly in 2008. His career figures aren't that imposing. He probably doesn't have enough good seasons left to amass a HoF resume.

Johan Santana - 109 wins, .689 winning percentage, 1.102 WHIP at age 29. He'll need six great seasons to line up with Pedro Martinez and even more to become a sure Hall of Famer.

Roy Halladay - 131 wins, .665 winning percentage at age 31. Roy needs at least five more big seasons to get in the HoF discussion.

More interesting names and careers

Miguel Cabrera
Jimmy Rollins
Jose Reyes
David Wright
Joe Mauer
Chase Utley
Ryan Howard
Alfonso Soriano

Amaris Ramirez
Justin Morneau
Magglio Ordonez
Roy Oswalt
Carlos Zambrano
Francisco Rodriguez

Retired, ineligible and electable

Roger Clemens - assuming he stays retired, a candidate for 2013 induction. A lot could happen between now and then with The Rocket's various legal battles. Once a possible unanimous inductee, Clemens could end up in a McGwire-like limbo.

Greg Maddux - with 355 career wins and a scandal-free career, now-retired Maddux is sure thing for induction in 2014 and a strong candidate for unanimous support, though it's likely that some stickler will prevent this.

Craig Biggio - retired after 2007 season with 3,000+ career hits - eligible for induction in 2013. A likely first-ballot selection with no chance of being a unanimous selection.

Barry Bonds - wanted to play in 2008, but by all accounts should be considered retired after 2007. Despite an amazing career, the steroids issue leaves Bonds' election in 2013 in doubt.

Mike Piazza - likely first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2013 as the best hitting catcher of all time.

Roberto Alomar - eligible in 2010 - great career through age 33; retired by age 36 - still amassed 2700 hits, 1500 runs and 400 SBs. Not first ballot, but soon.

Rafael Palmeiro - eligible in 2011 (probably not electable given steroid revelations - otherwise an almost sure thing with 569 HR and 3,020 hits)

Jeff Bagwell - eligible in 2011 - career cut short by injury - still 449 HRs and 948 OPS with half of career home games played in Astrodome). Not first ballot, but eventually.

Larry Walker (will be hurt by Coors Field factor) - eligible in 2011. "Only" 2160 hits, but 965 OPS, good all-around player. Will spend a long time on the ballot.

Bernie Williams - eligible in 2012 - decent stats (.297 BA, 858 OPS, 2300 hits, 288 HRs) for a CF; great postseason hitter (22 HRs) with four WS rings. Stays on ballot, election unsure.

Edgar Martinez - eligible in 2010 - great hitter at peak of career; career totals (2247 hits, 309 HRs) would seem to fall short, especially for a DH. Will stay on ballot but eventually go to Veterans' Committee.

Fred McGriff - eligible in 2010 - just seven short of magic 500 HRs. Election possible but not assured.

Retired, eligible, electable and not in

Mark McGwire
Lee Smith
Bert Blyleven

Jack Morris
Dale Murphy
Andre Dawson
Dave Parker
Tim Raines

September 20 Update - I've made two changes. First, Jim Thome, hitter of 540 career home runs, moves from "needs more milestones" to "sure thing" as he continues to contribute (33 HRs 87 RBI) as DH of the NL Central-leading White Sox.

Also Jim Kaat moves off the list. He's in the hands of the Veterans' Committee now, along with Ron Santo, Vada Pinson and several other players who came close but never met the 75% threshold.

I'll consider other changes at the end of the regular season. Getting no help from 2008 season were Andruw Jones, Nomar Garciaparra, Scott Rolen and Dontrelle Willis. Veterans helping their prospects were Mike Mussina, Carlos Delgado, Chipper Jones and Lance Berkman. New to the watch list should be Miguel Cabrera and Troy Glaus.

January 18, 2008 Update - I added some notes at the bottom based on the recent Hall of Fame election for 2008 in which Rich "Goose" Gossage was elected. Congratulations to a very deserving inductee who dominated hitters as both a starter and workhorse reliever over his long career with nine different major league teams. (photo from

July 2007 - Here's a list to chew on - potential future baseball Hall of Famers that are still active. Let me know your thoughts. Who's miscategorized? Who did I miss? Who shouldn't be there at all? Why?

My source is They track Bill James' Hall of Fame Monitor stat, which awards points for various season and career accomplishments.

Sure things if they stopped playing today (in order of "sure-thingedness")
Roger Clemens (#2 All-time pitcher in James' Hall of Fame Monitor stat) - moving down "sure-thingedness" list based on Mitchell Report allegations.
Greg Maddux
Ken Griffey, Jr.
Randy Johnson (#4 on same list)
Craig Biggio
Barry Bonds (would be higher except for steroid issue - #9 all-time position player)
Tom Glavine
John Smoltz
Trevor Hoffman

My first list ended here. After doing some research, I added these names (moving them up from the "don't need much more" group)

Mariano Riviera
Alex Rodriguez
Derek Jeter
Ivan Rodriguez
Manny Ramirez
Pedro Martinez (bad omission from my first list--forgot about him as an active player.)

Jim Thome (added 9/20/08)

Would be sure thing except for steroid issue
Sammy Sosa

Would be sure thing except for DH issue
Frank Thomas

Don't need much more, if anything:
Jeff Kent - not as strong a candidate as I thought, but I'm leaving him here as he's the all-time HR leader among 2B.
Vladimir Guerrero
Curt Schilling - great post-season record helps.

Great careers, but need more milestones
Gary Sheffield
Chipper Jones
Jim Thome - moved to "sure thing" 9/20/08
Todd Helton - moved up from promising but falling off

Once promising, but have fallen off lately
Nomar Garciaparra
Andruw Jones
Scott Rolen - not as good as I thought; would need a career rejuvenation to get there.

Long careers but still not sure by any means
Omar Vizquel
David Wells
Carlos Delgado
Jorge Posada - probably too far away statwise, but does have four rings and is hitting better than ever

Adding to this group

Mike Mussina
Miguel Tejada
Jason Giambi (probably not after steroid revelations)
Andy Pettitte
Jose Mesa (seems unlikely; Lee Smith needs to get in first)
Billy Wagner
Bobby Abreu

Luis Gonzalez

Playing at H of F level but early in career
Albert Pujols
Ichiro Suzuki

The above two need their own category. They've amassed HoF-worthy points in seven years. But they wouldn't make it they had a career ending injury tomorrow. Probably should move up to "more milestones" category.

Still too early to tell

Carlos Beltran
David Ortiz
Lance Berkman
Johan Santana
Roy Halladay
Jimmy Rollins
Jose Reyes
David Wright

I thought of some more names for this group

Joe Mauer
Chase Utley
Ryan Howard
Aramis Ramirez
Alfonso Soriano
Justin Morneau
Magglio Ordonez
Edgar Renteria
Johnny Damon
Roy Oswalt
Dontrelle Willis
Carlos Zambrano
Francisco Rodriguez

Two more categories

Retired, ineligible and electable

Roberto Alomar
Rickey Henderson - eligible in 2009.
Rafael Palmeiro (probably not electable given steroid revelations)
Jeff Bagwell
Larry Walker (will be hurt by Coors Field factor)
Bernie Williams
Edgar Martinez

Retired, eligible, electable and not in

Jim Rice - 71% of vote in 2008; 2009 is last year of eligibility for induction by writers.

Mark McGwire
Lee Smith
Goose Gossage - elected for induction in 2008.
Jim Kaat - 9/20/08 - now under Veterans' Committee consideration

Bert Blyleven
Dale Murphy
Andre Dawson
Dave Parker
Tim Raines - new to the ballot in 2008. Only player new to ballot to make 5% cut.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Holidays Costly on Louisiana's Highways

January 8 Update - Highlights

2008/9 Holiday Period Costly on Louisiana's Highways - 22 Die in 12 Days

Statewide Traffic Fatality Rates Down In 2008 From 2007

South Bayou Roads Remain Most Deadly in Louisiana

Lack of Seat Belt Use And Alcohol-Impaired Driving Are Persistent Problems

Improving Own Driving Habits Is Best Way To Stay Alive

Twenty-two traffic fatalities resulting from twenty accidents during the recent 12-day Christmas and New Years holiday period saddened the season for many Louisianans. These figures are compiled from news releases of the Louisiana State Police and other law enforcement agencies around the state, and may not reflect all traffic fatalities that actually occurred in the state during this time.

Christmas weekend was particularly gruesome as eleven people died in ten wrecks in four days between December 24 and December 27, with a single wreck on I-10 near LaPlace on Christmas Day killing three people, including two small children.

During the New Year's holiday between December 31 and January 4, nine people were killed in eight wrecks. Two deaths occurred in the early hours of January 1.

For the year 2008, 547 traffic-related deaths were reported on Louisiana's highways. The comparable total for 2007 was 613. The 2008 total represents a 11% decrease from 2007. By Louisiana State Police Troop Areas, the totals are - Troop A (Baton Rouge Metro) 90; Troop B (New Orleans Metro) 40; Troop C (South Bayou) 62; Troop D (SW Louisiana) 29; Troop E (Central LA) 73; Troop F (NE Louisiana)52; Troop G (NW Louisiana) 50; Troop I (Acadiana) 78; Troop L (North Shore) 73. Traffic deaths reported by Baton Rouge PD, East Baton Rouge SO, Livingston Parish SO, Zachary PD, New Orleans PD (incomplete reporting), Jefferson Parish SO, Lafourche SO, Bossier City PD, Shreveport PD, Lafayette PD and Slidell PD totaling 40 are included in these figures. Reports from Alexandria, Lake Charles and Monroe law enforcement, and various small town law enforcement agencies throughout the state remain inaccessible on the Internet, so these totals necessarily are not all-inclusive of all traffic fatalities that occurred in Louisiana during 2008.

The South Bayou area, including Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes, remains the most dangerous area of the state in terms of traffic fatality rates. The area reported 62 traffic deaths in 2008, up 11% in a year when fatalities reported around the state went down. Fatality rates based on both highway miles and population are more than twice the statewide averages. Similarly, the North Shore area had a bad 2008, with 73 traffic deaths, up 13% from the total reported in 2007, and above statewide average rates. Traffic fatalities declined in the metro Baton Rouge area, but remain above statewide average rates based on both highway miles and population. Significant declines were seen in SW Louisiana, Acadiana and the New Orleans Metro area, although the latter may be due to missing reporting by the New Orleans Police Department for most of 2008.

More complete reporting resulted in Northwest Louisiana's reported traffic deaths increasing by more than 250% to 50 in 2008. This increase implies that there were many traffic deaths in this area of the state that were not included in the 2007 figures, making the actual statewide decrease from year to year even greater.

May and June were the most costly months, with 55 and 68 traffic deaths reported, respectively. The fewest traffic deaths were reported in July and August, 29 in each month.

As has been highlighted many times in LSP news releases, lack of seat belt use and alcohol/narcotics-impairment are critical factors in fatal accidents. Out of 436 fatal accidents, 161 (37%) involved lack of seat belt use and 93 (21%) involved alcohol or drug use. Motorcyclists, ATV riders and bicyclists remain at high risk. 44 fatal accidents involved one of these kinds of vehicles. Pedestrians are no match for motorized vehicles. 40 fatal accidents killed at least one pedestrian. Large tractor trailers add danger to the road because of both their large size and their high fates of speed and long braking distances. 38 fatal accidents in Louisiana during 2008 involved an 18-wheeler. Driving habits also play a significant role. Speed was cited as a contributing factor in at least 22 fatal accidents. I suspect that the actual total is much higher, as so many 1-car accidents involve the vehicle "leaving the road for unknown reasons". Drivers often want to blame "the other guy" for bad driving, but more than half (58%) of reported fatal accidents involved just one vehicle. Improving one's own driving habits is the best way to reduce the likelihood of being involved in a fatal accident - wearing seat belts, driving unimpaired, slowing down, keeping safe following distance, watching out for pedestrians, obeying traffic signals, etc.

November 18 - Sorry for the long interruption between posts. The traffic death story on Louisiana's highways has not improved. In fact, November is shaping up to be the most deadly month since June.

Traffic deaths reported by the Louisiana State Police and various other law enforcement agencies around the state totalled 40 in both September and October, an increase of about 50% from the rate seen in July and August. The North Shore area was particularly dangerous in these two months, with 21 traffic fatalities reported. This area now ranks third in the state for traffic fatalities both by population and by mileage (it was fourth in both categories in 2007). Overall, the south Bayou area (Houma and Thibodaux and surroundings) remains the most dangerous in the state by both benchmarks.

In November, the Baton Rouge metro area and central Louisiana (Alexandria and surrounding parishes) have reported seven traffic deaths each. I'm particularly concerned about November in that 31 traffic fatalities have already been recorded in 17 days. This would project to 55 for the month without considering the extra traffic that can be expected over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Non-use of seat belts, alcohol-impaired driving, motorcyclists and pedestrians continue to stand out as key factors in traffic fatalities. If all drivers would drive only while sober, wear their seat belts, and watch closely for motorcyclists and pedestrians, many fatalities could be avoided. Motorcyclists could help their chances of surviving an accident by wearing a DOT-approved helmet.

September 11 - July and August's reported traffic deaths in Louisiana were at less than half the pace demonstrated in May and June. In July 28 people died in 26 accidents; in August 26 people died in 24 accidents. So far through 10 days of September, five people have died in five accidents. Perhaps Hurricane Gustav kept some people off the roads and made other stop at non-functioning traffic signals.

All fatal traffic accidents are tragically sad, but perhaps the saddest in August resulted in the death of Lafourche Parish sheriff's deputy Martha Woods Shareef, who was run over in a parking lot while responding to a reported burglary.

Troop A responded to the most costly accident in July when an out-of-control dump truck caused a wreck on I-12 in East Baton Rouge Parish that killed three innocent people, a father, mother and 7-year-old daughter. Another child, the family's four-year-old daughter, was critically injured as well as orphaned in the crash.

July 27 - Amazingly and depressingly, June was an even more deadly month on Louisiana's highways than was May. At least 68 people died in 59 fatal accidents.

This despite the Troop C area (southern Bayou) reducing its traffic death toll from 16 in May to 2 in June. The rest of the state more than made up the difference, with 15 deaths in Troop E's area (Alexandria area); 14 in Troop I's (Lafayette); 13 in Troop A's (Baton Rouge area - though most of these occurred in the rural parishes); 9 in Troop L's (Northshore); and 7 in Troop F (Monroe area). Troop G's area (Shreveport) recorded its first two traffic fatalities of the year in June.

Through 26 days, July looks considerably better with 18 fatalities resulting from 18 accidents. Speculation in Florida, where I've been for the last week, is that high gas prices are keeping people off the roads. I'm hoping that Louisiana's law enforcement officers and drivers responded to the record carnage of June with more patrols and safer driving in July.

June 3 - At least 53 people died on Louisiana's highways during May, by far the deadliest month so far in 2008. The total surpasses the previously monthly high of 38 set in March. A total of 43 accidents claimed the lives, of which eight resulted in multiple fatalities.

As noted previously, Louisiana State Police Troop C's jurisdiction, which includes Lafourche, Terrebonne and part of St. John Parish has been the most dangerous area of the state. Ten accidents there in May killed 16 people, including three juveniles. This death toll exceeded by 33% the previous record for an area in a month (Troop A with 12 in February). It also exceeded the death toll in the historically dangerous Troop C area for the rest of 2008.

If a serial killer were taking people out at such a pace in this predominantly rural area, the entire consciousness of the populace would be occupied in stopping the carnage.

May 14 - Killing or saddening mothers across the state, Mother's Day weekend resulted in 15 traffic fatalities on Louisiana's highways in ten separate accidents. Three other fatal accidents, each claiming a life, happened on Thursday, May 8.

The deathtrap under LSP Troop C's jurisdiction in south Louisiana (Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes) snuffed out nine lives in six accidents over the weekend. Friday afternoon, a two-car wreck claimed the life of an 18-year-old woman. On Saturday, a collision between two motorcycles, driven by a man and his wife, killed the woman. Alcohol is suspected to be a contributing factor, and both riders were wearing novelty helmets rather than DOT-approved helmets. A second accident on Saturday, this one a head-on crash on treacherous LA 308 (site of four fatal accidents in Lafourche Parish in the last three weeks), killed a 32-year-old woman and two of her three children, ages 10 and 8. A 13-year-old daughter survived to face the horror of losing almost her entire family. The children were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash. A Sunday one-car crash in Terrebone Parish killed a 23-year-old driver, who was also not wearing a seat belt. A head-on crash on LA 1 involving a diesel truck resulted in a fire that killed two men. A 22-year-old passenger was killed in one last wreck, this one on LA 57 near Ashland.

The Troop C area continues as the most dangerous section of the state. Per number of highway miles, the bayou area's fatality rate is more than three times the state average and more than 45 times the rate for safest area, that of Troop G in northwest Louisiana. Per population, the Troop C area's fatality rate is more than double the state average and more than 20 times that of Troop G.

In just the first 11 days of May, 22 people have been killed in 15 fatal accidents. As the desk sergeant used to say on Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there!"

April 23 - It's been another couple of rough weeks for traffic fatalities on Louisiana's highways. Since April 7, fourteen people have been killed in fourteen incidents ranging from cars going off the road and flipping to a 30-year-old male rescue firefighter being killed while responding to a previous wreck. Another 19-year-old female victim survived a wreck only to be killed when her disabled vehicle was struck and knocked into her. If you are involved in a wreck please be extra careful while outside your vehicle at the accident scene. This may be hard to do in the trauma of the original accident, but could save your life as many drivers are travelling too fast to react to a unforeseen roadside situation.

April 8 Update - The last three weeks have been anything but quiet on Louisiana's highway. The wail you may have heard on Sunday came from nearby Prairieville, home of two teenage boys killed in an accident just after midnight on the I-10 service road at Picardy Ave in Baton Rouge. Their vehicle, a Mazda 626 entering the service road from Picardy toward I-10 South and home, was rear-ended by a speeding pickup driven by a 56-year old Georgia resident. The blood alcohol level of the pickup's driver was later measured at 0.128, well above Louisiana limit of 0.08 for DWI. Two boys, 13- and 15-year-old best friends, were taken with serious injuries from the crash site to a local hospital where they were later pronounced dead. Here's a link to the Baton Rouge Advocate's news story on the wreck and the victims. Perhaps now some attention will be paid to this dangerous stretch of road, which I've been concerned about since last year.

Overall, April 6 was an ugly day on Louisiana's highways, as four people were killed in three wrecks. April's gotten off to a bad start with nine fatalities in seven days. For the year, I've counted 101 accidents causing 114 deaths. As hideous as all this sounds, with every fatality being a mind-numbing tragedy for family members and other loved ones of the victim, the pace of Louisiana traffic fatalities as reported by LSP and other large jurisdictions (BRPD, NOPD in particular) is down significantly from 2007. At the current pace, fewer than 450 people will die on Louisiana's highways under these jurisdicitions, compared to more than 600 in 2007. I hope the difference of more than 25% is due to safer driving rather than to spottier reporting.

March 17 Update - New Orleans and the surrounding area accounted for all the traffic fatalities in an otherwise blessedly quiet week. Between March 8 and 15, NOPD investigated three fatal accidents that each killed one person. On March 16, Troop B responded to a three-car wreck on I-10 near LaPlace that killed an 8-year-old girl and injured ten other people. In the rest of the state, no fatal accidents have been reported since March 8. The five-stay stretch between March 10 and 14 was the longest without a fatal accident statewide since I started following this subject last year.

March 6 Update - TFC Dardar of Troop C reports that they investigated 52 fatal accidents that resulted in 65 deaths in 2007. This is nine more than I counted based on Troop C news releases. The extra nine fatalities brings my state total for 2007 to 659.

2008 continues to be a very tough year in the Troop A's area--metro Baton Rouge. State Police have investigated accidents that have killed 21 people. Baton Rouge and Livingston Police Departments add three more for an overall total of 24.

Statewide, the Troop C area (Southeast Bayou - Terrebonne, Lafourche, Assumption Parishes and parts of St. James and St. John Parishes) has suffered 10 traffic fatalities thus far in 2008, maintaining its unenviable position as the most dangerous area of the state, on both deaths per highway mile and deaths per population basis. The Troop C area's rate of 0.43 fatalities /100 miles is more than three times the state average of 0.14. On a population basis, the Troop C area's rate of 0.38 fatalities per 10,000 population is twice as high as the state average. Close behind in both categories is metro-Baton Rouge (Troop A's jurisdiction) at 2.8 times the state average on a highway mile basis and 1.65 times the state average on a population basis. Troop F's area has logged 11 fatalities so far in 2008. Statewide, 82 people have been killed in 2008 traffic accidents, seemingly horrific, but a rate that would project to less than 500 for the whole year, at least 150 fewer than I counted for 2007. I can't say for sure if the decrease is due to better driving or holes in my recordkeeping--I pray the former.

February 24 Update - LSP reported seven traffic deaths on a hideous Friday, February 22. Five happened in Troop A's jurisdiction--three in one St. James Parish head-on collision. Just two hours earlier in Ascension Parish, a one-car accident killed a 51-year-old man. Another St. James crash resulted in the fifth fatality . Troop D responded to two separate single-car accidents in Beauregard Parish, each of which killed a 40-something male driver.

Traffic fatalities within the Troop A area (Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes) now total a depressing 20 for 2008, far more than any other area of Louisiana and 20% higher than 2007's deadly pace for the area. This despite increased patrolling along I-10 and and I-12 that has helped hold the death toll on these major thoroughfares in the Baton Rouge area to one. Fifteen of the 20 fatalities have occurred in the parishes surrounding Baton Rouge.

On a positive note, both Troop B and Troop G have yet to report their first fatality, though NOPD has responded to two inside the city. This trend continues NW Louisiana's state-leading performance of 2007, and represents a significant improvement in the New Orleans area traffic fatality rate, assuming there's not some reporting gap.

The vehicle pictured was involved in a fatal accident in St. Rose, LA on May 31, 2007 in which two teenage girls were killed. Remind your teenagers (and yourselves) to buckle up, to not drink and drive, and about the dangers of excessive speed.

February 1 Update - Troop A's public information officer told me that the Troop investigated 100 fatal accidents in 2007 that caused 112 deaths. This was 37 more deaths than I counted from the individual news releases. I plan to contact Troops B and C and ask for the same information.

I started a new spreadsheet for 2008. Through January, I counted 29 deaths in 25 accidents. The Baton Rouge area has been the most dangerous with Troop A investigating 7 fatalities and the Baton Rouge Police Department one more (an 8-year old boy).

January 18 Update - I continue to collect stats about 2007. This week I learned that Troop I hadn't posted news releases on their website for part of the year because of a computer malfunction. My records show Troop I responding to 29 fatal accidents that caused 33 deaths. The Troop I public affairs officer told me that the troop responded to 88 fatal accidents causing 100 deaths. The additional 67 deaths from Troop I brings my recorded total for 2007 to 613. This total may double count as many as seven Troop I-area deaths that I got from news reports.
Here's a link to the updated spreadsheet:

Please let me know if you can't see the spreadsheet by using this link. I'm not sure if I'm using Google Docs correctly to allow open access to this information.

The additional deaths reported by Troop I also changed the danger rankings of the various parts of the state. I calculated two statistics - deaths per 100 miles of roadway (taken from the Louisiana State Police website) and deaths per 10,000 population (from U.S. Census 2006 population estimates for Louisiana parishes). I combined local and state police jurisdictions where appropriate - I added Troop A and Baton Rouge Police Department fatality figures; Troop B and New Orleans and Slidell Police Departments figures ; and Troop G and Shreveport Police Department figures.

Based on road miles, Troop C's area (which I call the Southeast Bayou) is the most dangerous in the state. This area includes Terrebonne, Lafourche, Assumption and parts of St. John the Baptist and St. James Parishes. The area has only 2,322 miles of roads (by comparison, Troop F's area in NE Louisiana has over 10,000 miles of roads), but still suffered 56 traffic fatalities in 2007. Its fatality rate of 2.41 per 100 roadway miles was 134% above the statewide average of 1.03 and almost 11 times higher than the Troop G area's (NW Louisiana) rate of 0.22.

In descending order, the remaining areas' danger rates based on roadway miles are: Troop A (metro Baton Rouge) 1.75; Troop B (metro New Orleans) 1.57; Troop I (Acadiana) 1.25; Troop L (North Shore) 1.23; Troop E (Central LA) 0.97; Troop D (SW LA) 0.75; Troop F (NE LA) 0.53; Troop G (NW LA) 0.22.

The most dangerous area based on deaths per 10,000 population was Troop E's (Central LA) at 2.51. In descending order the other areas are Troop C (SE Bayou) 2.14; Troop I (Acadiana) 1.64; Troop F (NE LA) and Troop L (North Shore) at 1.63; SW LA at 1.44; Metro Baton Rouge at 1.38; Metro New Orleans at 0.86; and NW LA at 0.51.

By average ranking from most to least dangerous - SE Bayou; Acadiana/Central LA (tie); North Shore/Metro BR (tie); Metro NO; NE LA; SW LA; NW LA.

I plan to contact Public Affairs Officers for other LSP Troops to get updated stats for 2007. I'll update the averages and rankings based on any new information. I expect that Troops A, B, C, G and L will have 10-20% additional deaths to report, which would add 20 to 40 deaths to the overall total.

January 4 Update - The New Year's holiday period fulfilled its deadly potential as the Louisiana State Police reported seven fatalities in seven separate accidents between December 28 and January 1. December 27 proved even more dangerous as three people died in three incidents.

December 27 was a tough day for non-motorists. An 85-year old bicyclist was struck by a car and killed in Baton Rouge. On LA 12 in Calcasieu Parish, a 52-year old male pedestrian was struck and killed while walking along a dark road at night. The other fatality on December 27 occurred in Pointe Coupee parish in a 2-car wreck that killed a 26-year-old man.

Two people died in traffic accidents on December 28. A 65-year-old women not wearing a seat belt was killed on LA 478 in a one-car accident. Later the same day, a 20-year-old man was killed in a similar accident.

December 29 claimed three lives, the first two in Rapides Parish wrecks that occurred just 5 hours apart. At 3:39 a.m. a 21-year-old female passenger was killed in a wreck with an 18-wheeler. She was not wearing a seat belt. At 8:58 a.m. an 89-year old man was killed in a 1-car wreck. He too was not wearing a seat belt. A third one-car wreck at 11:00 in Folsom killed a 23-year-old when the car caught fire.

New Year's Day was deadly for two motorists. A 38-year-old female died in a Tangipahoa Parish accident on LA 1094. She was not wearing a seat belt. In Lafource Parish, a 2-car accident killed a 49-year-old woman.

A positive sign is that alcohol was not reported initially to be involved in any of the fatal wrecks. One wreck happened at 2:10 a.m. on New Year's Day.

Five of the seven victims were not wearing seat belts. Please wear yours. It could save your life.

December 28 Update - The Christmas holiday period is behind us and the even more dangerous New Year's weekend has just begun. Here are some traffic fatality stats from the Christmas weekend and a wish for a fatality-free New Year's celebration.

Between December 21 and December 25, the Louisiana State Police responded to six fatal accidents causing seven deaths. This is the same number of fatal accidents and traffic deaths reported during the recent 5-day Thanksgiving weekend period.

Troop A responded to a Christmas Day wreck in West Baton Rouge Parish at the intersection of LA 1 and LA 3237 where a 47-year old male died when his vehicle collided with an 18-wheeler. The victim was not wearing a seat belt.

Troop C responded to a two-car accident on LA 3235 in Galliano, LA on December 23. Again a car and 18-wheeler collided. Both driver and passenger in the car, 20 and 24-year-old males respectively, were killed. Neither was wearing a seat belt.

Troop E responded to two fatal accidents during the period. The first happened on December 21 in Natchitoches Parish. Two cars collided head-on. The 49-year-old female victim was not wearing a seat belt.

The second accident in Troop E's jurisdiction happened on Christmas Day in Sabine Parish on LA 175. A 16-year-old male driver died when his car went off the road and struck a tree. He was not wearing a seat belt.

Three other fatal accidents were responded to by Troop L. One on December 22 took place in St. Tammany Parish on LA 36. A 18-year-old male passenger was killed in a one-car wreck where the driver was cited for DUI and vehicular homicide.

On December 23 at twilight, a 60-year-old male bicyclist was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver on US 11 in St. Tammany Parish.

And just an hour later, a 67-year-old male was killed in a 2-car accident on US 190 in Tangipahoa Parish. Alcohol was involved in this crash.

The already-upon-us New Year's weekend, which runs from today through Tuesday, January 1, is even more dangerous than Christmas because of the likelihood that people will be drinking and driving as they celebrate the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008. If you drink away from home, designate a sober driver or call a taxi to get home. If you don't have to leave home, just party there and stay off the roads. Look at the pyramid of hazard, particularly for those in south Louisiana. Overall, Louisiana is one of the most dangerous states to drive in; south Louisiana is by far the most dangerous half of the state. The overnight hours between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. are the most dangerous. And more people will be drinking and driving than usual because of the holiday. Do you want to pit your life and your family's future against those odds? Party at home. Stay overnight at the party or at a hotel you can walk to. Invite your friends to party with you and to stay the night. If you have to go home, take a taxi or designate a sober driver. Wear your seat belt and be extra observant of the driving habits of others, particularly at intersections and around curves.

Have a Safe and Happy New Year's celebration and a great 2008!

December 10 Update - Using police records and news reports, I've been assembling a spreadsheet of traffic fatalities on Louisiana's highways in 2007. Through December 10, the count is a grisly 496, suffered in 439 wrecks involving 626 vehicles.

As bad as this sounds, it's almost certainly an undercount, given that more than 900 Louisiana motorists were killed in traffic accidents in 2006, a total that was exceeded at least the last three years.

I lack data from Louisiana's small cities and parish sheriff departments, which don't publish data or news releases on the Internet. I expect that fatalities investigated by these jurisdictions make up most or all of the difference.

Still, the available data for 2007 shows some interesting patterns. State Police Troop C's territory (Louisiana SE Bayou country - Terrebone, Lafourche and Assumption Parishes primarily) is the most dangerous in the state (39% worse than second place Troop A (East Baton Rouge and surroundings); and almost 13 times more dangerous than NW Louisiana. Troop B's area (metro New Orleans) is close behind in third place. All 24 hours of the day are dangerous, with the hours between midnight and 3 a.m. being most so, given the number of cars on the road. By 4 a.m. the drunks are off the road or already dead, and the morning drunks haven't emerged yet.

All of this piles on top of Louisiana being of the three most dangerous states in the country, with a fatality rate 50% above the national average. Please, please stay off the road in bayou country after midnight. But if you have to, don't drink and drive and do wear your seat belt. Thanks!

My neighbor is a motorcyclist. This sign in his yard offers good advice.

LSP - Holiday Weekend Traffic Deaths Hold at 7; I-10 Reopened

November 26 - There are two pieces of good news to report. First, the holiday weekend ended without any more traffic fatalities being reported by LSP, NOPD, BRPD or Shreveport Police Department. The five-day holiday period ended with seven traffic fatalities reported in these jurisdictions, in line with data I've collected for 2007, and below the 2005 and 2006 rates of more than two fatalities per day for the entire state. The 2007 figures continue a positive downward trend for the Thanksgiving holiday period. LSP reported 17 fatalities during the period in 2005, nine in 2006 and six this year. (The seventh for 2007 was reported by NOPD.)

The second good news story is that I-10 has reopened across the Louisiana after almost 50 miles were closed for 10 days due to a natural gas well fire. During this period, I-10 traffic was rerouted along I-49, US 190, LA 415 and I-110 to Baton Rouge and to US 90 to New Orleans. Although State Police responded to more than 100 accidents along these highways in the ten days, most were minor and none resulted in a fatality.

November 25 - I don't know how LSP troopers face responding to fatal car crashes. I have trouble enough typing about them.

Friday was an expensive day as three people died in two crashes. The first occurred in Grant Parish when a Mercury Grand Marquis went off US 165 into a small group of trees, killing the 93-year-old driver and his 88-year-old passenger. A second 81-year-old passenger received critical injuries. The 88-year-old was not wearing a seat belt. The Grant Parish Coroner is investigating the cause of death.

Late Friday evening a one-car crash killed a 29-year-old man in Franklin Parish. He ran off LA 471. The car overturned and caught fire. The victim was not wearing a seat belt.

This brings the total number of fatalities reported by LSP and NOPD over the holiday weekend so far to seven. No fatalities have been reported by BRPD. Reports from other Louisiana police jurisdictions are unavailable on line.

November 24 - LSP responded to one fatal crash on Thanksgiving Day. Troop L reported a one-car crash in St. Helena Parish at 10:40 p.m on Thursday that claimed the life of a 32-year old male. The driver was not wearing a seat belt. Alcohol impairment is suspected. Baton Rouge and New Orleans Police Departments did not report any traffic fatalities on Thanksgiving Day.

November 22 - During the first day of the extended Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the Louisiana State Police (LSP) responded to two fatal crashes. The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) responded to one fatal crash.

The New Orleans crash happened at 8:00 a.m. Wednesday at North Broad and Thayer Streets. A 56-year-old driver left the roadway, struck a barrier and went into the Sewerage and Water Board's discharge pit.

The first accident reported by LSP happened at 2:37 p.m. on Wednesday in Franklin Parish (Troop F), where a 78-year-old man from Winn, LA died in a one-car accident on LA Highway 4. The driver ran off the road and struck a culvert. He was pronounced dead at Franklin Parish Medical Center.

The second happened in a similar accident at 9:32 pm in Livingston Parish, where Troop A reports that a 47-year-old man from Holden, LA died in a one-car accident on LA Highway 441. Again, the driver ran off the road and struck a culvert. He was not wearing a seat belt. Alcohol is suspected as a contributing factor. The driver was transported to Wood Hospital in Amite, LA, where he was later pronounced dead by the hospital staff.

So far there are no reports posted by LSP, NOPD or Baton Rouge Police Department of traffic deaths on Thanksgiving Day. Also on the good news side, there have been no reports of fatal accidents on US 190 between Opelousas and Baton Rouge, a section of road that has experienced an exceptionally level of traffic since the parallel segment of I-10 between Baton Rouge and Lafayette has been shut down for almost two weeks due to the explosion and repair of a natural gas well just 100 yards from the highway near Ramah, Louisiana.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Recent Reads - November 2008

I've been busy reading during the last two months. Here are reviews I've posted on since mid-September.

Songs for the Butcher's Daughter

by Peter Manseau

Second Chances

Language, setting, history, religion and romance make Peter Manseau's new novel "Songs for the Butcher's Daughter" a natural for lovers of historical fiction. Playing himself as a recent college graduate with a not-very-marketable degree in ancient languages, Manseau takes a job sorting old Yiddish books. Sorting grows into reading and translating, and we enter the world of Itsik Malpesh, a Russian-born Yiddish poet, whose "Songs for the Butcher's Daughter" are written for a girl he's never met, but longs for as he grows.

At one level a story about language and words, Manseau describes the pull of Yiddish, Russian, Hebrew and English on Jews in their journey from the Old World of eastern Europe to new lives in American and Israel. He also does a great job of explaining the processes of putting words to paper - by the impoverished poet, and by printers in both Russia and New York.

Manseau also excels with setting, taking the reader from the industrial city of Kishinev to the port city of Odessa, and of course, on to America, primarily New York and to a lesser extent Baltimore and Boston. Part of the story takes place "off camera" in Jerusalem, but being that the book is a first-person account by either Manseau or Malpesh, we can only experience this setting third hand.

As for history, Manseau gives the reader a glimpse into key aspects of the Jewish experience in the first half of the twentieth century - life in eastern Europe, their relationship with Christians, emigration to and life in the US, and the Zionist movement.

Despite the essential "Jewishness" of the story, overt discussion of religion isn't a major aspect until the very end when the issue of fate vs. free will helps explain the actions of a major character.

I'll leave it for the reader to discover the role of romance in the story. The title offers a big clue.

The story requires an impressive number of coincidences to reach its endpoint, but given the frequent ghettoization of Jewish people and remembering that in fact, the story is a novel, they are easy to go along with.

Manseau weaves two narratives throughout - his own as he discovers and translates Malpesh's work, and Malpesh's story. He also provides some insight into the travails of translation - should the translator "crib" (a literal translation) or attempt to create a separate work of art in his own language.

Four-and-a-half stars rounded up to five for excellent customer service by Amazon Vine, who provided me with a second copy of this book free of charge when I reported having lost my first copy (it was later found at a grocery store, where they picked it up and put it on their sales shelf). I'm very happy I got a second chance to read "Songs for the Butcher's Daughter." Readers from age 10 to 100 will enjoy this book.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

by Timothy Egan

Choked Up

Hurricanes come and go along America's Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. Property and lives are destroyed, but often rebuilt. There's some comfort in knowing that indefatigable Mother Nature caused the damage.

But in the plains and panhandles of Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, an unprecented and unyielding natural disaster, rooted in the uprooting of native grasses in the name of progress, blew dirt into peoples' lives for almost the full decade of the '30s, killing thousands, ruining countless businesses, and emptying towns. It came to be known as the Dust Bowl, and Timothy Egan's book "The Worst Hard Times" tells the story via the recollections of a few octa- and nonagenarians who were there and lived through it.

Egan's narratives built around these recollections are heartbreaking. I could only read two chapters at a time without getting choked up emotionally as the denizens of the area, living in sod houses coughed up dirt, buried young children who'd died of dust pneumonia, and lived lives of grueling poverty. The Irish potato famine is the only agricultural disaster that I've read about that could top it. When the grasshoppers come calling, another outcome of the destruction of an ecosystem, the effect becomes biblical.

Part two of the story which recounts the federal government's effort to alleviate the disaster, is necessarily less compelling. Egan brings the story back to a more personal level in the last few chapters by sharing the diary of a Nebraska farmer who struggles to maintain a life with his wife.

A broader aspect of the tale is the lesson about understanding the fragility of ecosystems and showing respect for natural habitats developed over thousands of years.

"The Worst Hard Time" ranks with "Isaak's Storm" about the 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveson, TX, as the best history books I've read about American natural disasters. The involvement of people who lived to tell the tale makes Egan's book even more compelling. Highly recommended to all readers, although a little depressing for teenagers who aren't history buffs.

The Given Day

by Dennis Lehane

Lehane's Best

Lehane ventures successfully from his usual genre of crime fiction ("Gone Baby Gone" and other Patrick and Angie detective novels, "Mystic River" and the psychological novel "Shutter Island") to create a fascinating historical novel about life in his beloved Boston in the early 20th century. The narrative builds toward the Boston Police Strike of 1919, which took place at a time when the Red Scare which was gaining momentum following the recent Russian Revolution. Anyone organizing more than three people (including policemen) to do other than hold a patriotic parade was considered a potential enemy of the state. Aiden "Danny" Coughlin, a first-generation Irish-American and second-generation cop tries to become a plainclothes detective by taking undercover roles in both the worlds of police labor organization and dissidents (all of whom were considered potential terrorists). Eventually Danny "goes native" and becomes a pariah of sorts within his own family--his father is a Boston Police Department Captain, his brother Connor is an aspiring Assistant District Attorney.

Paralleling Danny's story is that of Luther Laurence, a 23-year-old African-American worker in Columbus, OH munitions factory, suddenly laid off to make way for returning white soldiers. Without real prospects in Columbus, Luther and his pregnant girlfriend Lila strike out for Tulsa, OK, where oil money has created an affluent black society in Greenwood alongside the white nouveau riche. Luther can't believe his good fortune, which doesn't last long, and the end of which propels him to Boston to join the story there.

As a bonus to the reader, Lehane weaves through both stories charming (and often vulgar) vignettes about the life of emerging baseball superstar Babe Ruth, in his last years with the Boston Red Sox during this time. The opening scenes recounting a pickup baseball game between a trainload of major leaguers and Laurence's industrial league team in Columbus would stand alone as one of the best baseball short stories I've read.

Ruth isn't the only historical character with a prominent role - theatrical producer and Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, held responsible by Sox fans for 87 years for the "Curse of Babe Ruth" appears to negotiate Ruth's way to New York; J. Edgar (then just John) Hoover appears as an ambitious young lawyer in the new Bureau of Investigation; Jack Reed and Eugene O'Neill are among the radical left; then Massachusetts governor and future U.S. President Calvin Coolidge plays a key role during the strike and ensuing riot. Historical events of the period are also featured - the Great Influenza of 1917 and the Molasses Tank Explosion of 1918, of which I wasn't aware, but which was a very big mess.

The Given Day was my most satisfying and exciting read of 2008. I blew through the 700 pages in less than two days as the book became my constant waking companion. Lehane's style born in detective stories keeps the action moving. The larger story resonates in the current day with the domestic surveillance and executive power given by the Patriot Act in the post-9/11 era occurring in the long shadow of the Red Scare. Lehane lays much of liberal Boston's ugly history bare--racism, classism, ethnicism, and sexism were all rampant in the early 20th century as groups worked to put as many people as possible below them on the power structure.

It is by far my favorite Lehane novel of the five or so I've read, comparing favorably with another of my favorites, "Paradise Alley" by Kevin Baker about the New York City draft riots of 1863, which it greatly resembles in scope and style. The book's timing and ending leave hope that Lehane might tackle a future novel about the infamous Tulsa race riots of 1921 in Greenwood, OK. Five enthusiastic stars, especially for lovers of historical fiction and of Boston. Although a bit long for a classroom assignment, "The Given Day" would also serve high school and college students of early 20th century history well, especially regarding labor struggles and the Red Scare. Fans of Lehane's other works may be expecting something different, but should still enjoy "The Given Day."

North River

by Pete Hamill

Forever's Missing Pieces Found in North River

In his followup to "Forever", a sprawling "magical history" of New York City, journalist/novelist Pete Hamill streamlines both scope and genre to produce "North River", a family story set in Depression-era New York. Dr. James Delaney, a general practitioner serving mostly indigent clients during a time where no one has money, unexpectedly takes on the new challenge of single fatherhood when his daughter Grace leaves his toddler grandson Carlito on the doorstep on the way to a worldwide search for her revolutionary husband. Delaney's efforts to raise his young charge, care for his patients, and negotiate his way among the mobster scene (he treats WW I war buddy and mob boss Eddie Corso in the opening scene) carry the story until immigrant housekeeper and child caretaker Rosa joins the household. Unlike "Forever", the story here is compact enough that to reveal more would be a spoiler.

Hamill also softens the punchy journalistic style he displayed in "Forever", achieving a much more lyrical feel to what is a human story rather than a vehicle to recount history. Still, I enjoyed that Hamill set this story in the 20th century, the one period he bypassed in "Forever", which otherwise spanned more than 250 years. Readers who balked at the suspension of disbelief (i.e. that a man could live forever if he held to a shaman's orders) required to accept "Forever", will appreciate the simple story that Hamill tells here.

My whole family - myself, my wife, my father and mother - read and enjoyed "North River". Sit by a fire for a few hours this winter and enjoy it yourself. Five stars.

Being Written

by William Consecu

Heard But Not Seen

In his debut novel, Consecu brings a new sense to the postmodern approach of bringing the reader into the writing process--that of sound, as character Daniel Fischer hears pencil being applied to paper by an off-camera novelist while Daniel lives his life. Will he be a minor character in someone else's story, or will he take charge and become the protagonist? Of course, he pushes for the latter, ultimately in a reckless manner that leaves the reader to predict the story's ending for him or herself. Daniel's group of artistic friends can seem inbred and confusing at times, but they sort themselves out well enough to allow for the climax. Daniel's challenge is a useful metaphor for all young people trying to make sense of their lives.

One scene from the pay-for-gay-sex world makes this one unsuitable for younger readers, though I'd make an exception for aspiring young writers so they can experience Conescu's unique approach. Otherwise, recommended for readers of literary fiction, particularly so for those with an interest in the writing process. Four stars.

Hunk City

by James Wilcox

Aging Baptists

Years ago my wife and I read with joy and laughter James Wilcox's wonderful "Modern Baptists", his first novel about the wacky denizens of Tula Springs, LA, a fictional town on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain not far from us in Baton Rouge, LA. Several follow-ups later we're still waiting to feel that magic again as Burma Van Buren and her pals and enemies, some of whom she's either in love with, formerly married to or "bunnying" with at one point or another, deal with the curious local culture and with the world at large. The "hunk" of Hunk City is gay landscaper Hunter Schein, whose sexual orientation is a great disappointment to Burma. For whatever reason, she moons over the desultory Bobby Perkins, her former boss at the Sonny Boy, now Redd's Department Store. The plot and minor characters are predictably zany, but somehow the only real surprise is the appearance of a tooth flosser, a service that I've never considered contracting, but Wilcox to his credit has. If you haven't already, head for "Modern Baptists" to see how it all got started in Tula Springs. Three stars for an pleasant enough continuation of the saga.

Requiem, Mass.

by John Dufresne

Family Matters

Dufresne's memoir/autobiographical novel (with a good bit of imagination thrown in, as he liberally warns the reader along the way) tells the sadly hilarious story of teenage Johnny Boy and younger sister Audrey's fight to save their family and their own sanity along the way while growing up in ironically named Requiem, Mass. Because mother Frances thinks that the two children living in her house are fiendish doubles for her real children, planted by foreign spies or interstellar aliens, Johnny and Audrey must communicate with her by phone, where she'll accept their "real" voices. Father Rainy, the lyin' long-haul trucker, maintains multiple identities and multiple families during his cross-country journeys, unconcerned because he's only married to one of the women. The kids react by adopting their own family out of the collection of oddballs living above and below them in the apartment building, and in one especially clever move, inventing neighbors - the Sandilands - for whom they can "babysit" to get away from the craziness. You'll ache thinking about what Johnny has to deal with. Precocious Audrey and her cat Deluxe are charming and as such provide a good deal of comic relief for both Johnny and the reader, a debt he works hard to repay later in life. As you can imagine, coming from this childhood, Johnny's path to adulthood as a writer living in Florida (not unlike the author) isn't straightforward. Neither is Audrey's.

Dufresne has a great way with dialogue, even from such widely disparate locations as central Massachusetts and northeast Louisiana. The end of the story is startling, but maybe less so given that Johnny tells the story as it will happen three years in the future. Overall, Johnny's adventures as an adult are somewhat less compelling than the coming-of-age story. Still, lovers of well-written comic fiction will enjoy this book. Four and a half stars, rounded up to five for Dufresne's excellent writing.

The Gulag Archipelago, Volume 3

by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Time's Top Non-Fiction Book of the 20th Century

This amazing volume chronicles Solzhenitsyn's years in a Siberian labor camp for political prisoners and later in exile, a limbo status, where the state's support of physical needs is withdrawn, but the prisoner's reentry into mainstream society isn't allowed because of his status as a former prisoner. The final section takes place after Stalin's death in 1953, when both those in power and in prison were trying to figure how what to do in the absence of the mastermind of the Soviet Union's system of internal terror.

Soltzhenitsyn describes with alternating wit, pain, sarcasm, challenge the life of a zek (this story is also presented in his much shorter "A Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich", which in the years after the death of Joseph Stalin was actually accepted by the Soviet government for awhile). For awhile common criminals were mixed with politicals - their sentences were generally shorter than the "quarters" (25 years) given to the politicals, and they were useful to prison management as stoolies.

Often soldiers recently released from German prison camps were imprisoned for political offenses. After his release from political prison, Solzhenitsyn surreptitiously collected information from other former prisoners about conditions in other camps and about ethnic cleansing programs around the Soviet Union. Their tales are harrowing. Detainees in one camp actually managed to take it over from its local management, who showed sympathy to their plight. Upper level Soviet officials visited the camp for "negotiations", after which they "agreed" to meet all demands. You can guess what happened next.

The Soviet Union may have lost 20 million citizens in combat, but Stalin's program of political terror must have killed at least as many more.

Of any man who lived, Solzhenitsyn probably did the most to expose the brutal nature of the Soviet regime, particularly that of Joseph Stalin, who in the rest of the world enjoyed status as Papa Joe, leader of part of the Allied forces that defeated Nazi Germany. His efforts to publish the Gulag Archipelago were always in jeopardy. As such he never had the entire manuscript in one place, making of the great political documents of the 20th century that much more remarkable.

Despite its length (Volume 3 alone runs to about 600 pages in hardback) and grim subject matter, I found Gulag Archipelago relatively readable. Solzhenistyn's personal style - much is written like he was telling you the stories face to face. Five stars for all readers, if only to highlight the dangers of a totalitarian government that spies and imprisons its citizens for their political and religious beliefs in name of ideology.

Forced Out

by Stephen Frey

Of Hitters and Hitmen

The worlds of minor league baseball and major league gangsters collide in Stephen Frey's new mystery. Frey handles the baseball content well in his first literary trip to the diamond. The gangsters are appropriately cruel and ruthless, and in one case introspective.

The plot regarding a young New York City-born athlete engaged in his own witness protection program as a talented, but moody minor leaguer in south Florida rolls along, led by retired and disgraced former major league scout Jack Barrett.

Gangsters want to take out "the Kid", whose talent and fake name echo the great Mickey Mantle. Barrett wants to take him back to the Yankees and superstardom and in the process rescue his own career and retiree finances.

Less compelling are many side stories about Jack's daughter and her social life.

As you'd expect, there are plenty of casualties at the climax, including one that leads to an over-the-top ending.

Also be forewarned that you may read more about torture techniques, in particular waterboarding, than you want to. If I wasn't before (which I was), I'm really against this technique after reading about its application in the world of gangsters.

Three stars for decent baseball content and some slimy gangster moments. If Frey decides to stick with Jack Barrett as a continuing protagonist, I'll probably stay with James Lee Burke and his alky cop Dave Robicheaux.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Return of Soxtober

The Red Sox win in Game One of the 2008 ALDS reminded me of 2007's Soxtober craze.

Here are the marketing tangents I developed around that theme.

1) When the Indians beat the Red Sox (or win the World Series in Cleveland) -- Jaketober!2) A similar Diamondback triumph -- Snaketober!
3) A repeat of Curt Schilling's 2004 heroics -- Hunt for Red Socktober
4) Birds rather than midges invade Jacobs Field -- Flocktober!
5) Most of what Tim McCarver says -- Crocktober
6) Celebrity-ridden game coverage -- Schlocktober
7) Jim Rome does guest commentary -- Smacktober!
8) Rockies rally from 2 down against Jose Valverde in extra innings - Shocktober!
9) FOX camera scans stands for Hugh Laurie - Doctober
10) Clarence Clemons plays National Anthem - Saxtober
11) Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and you know who - Trucktober!
12) Diamondbacks' stadium name sponsor JP Morgan Chase says invest with your Stocktober!
And a few more -
A 12-inning night game in Phoenix, would have us watching the Clocktober
All players are warned not to scratch themselves in certain places on camera to avoid Jocktober
Or to spit on camera - Hocktober
Leonard Nimoy does play-by-play in Spocktober
With the Braves missing the playoffs for two straight years we've not seen Coxtober
If there's a controversy about where a batter stands relative to home plate it could be Boxtober
Well-dressed player wives could inspire Frocktober
A finger-painting contest for the little ones - Smocktober!
Nestles or Hershey would sponsor the MLB playoff tie-in Choctober!
A moving, albeit somewhat geographically misplaced tribute to Steve Irwin - Croctober.
Fall football recruit-signing fan event - Faxtober (sorry for lack of baseball content)
Too bad the Padres missed the postseason--their run could have been Blacktober
Team with most future Hall of Famers can celebrate (or the ADA can sponsor) - Plaquetober!
Baseball PR reps get together at the special event - Flacktober!
Hitters spray line drives at infielders - Flaktober
Green Bay is 4-1 as we play in Packtober.
Between-inning cup rearrangement contest - Stacktober!
O'Neal attends a game between basketball contests - Shaqtober!
Don Rickles joins Buck and McCarver - Yoktober!
Joan Rivers or Rosie O'Donnell do the same - Yaktober!
If the free-swinging D-Backs strike out too much to win - Hacktober
The star of "School of Rock" gets a FOX series and shows up at the ballpark - JackBlacktober
Needing no last name, Jack Nicholson's appearance is just Jacktober.
The combined offense of the Phillies and Cubs in the Division Series - Lacktober
Mark McGwire makes a surprise appearance to discuss his past steroid use - Mactober
Morganna's daughter races toward the third baseman - Racktober
Frito Lay's big MLB playoff campaign - Snacktober!
Enraged manager pulls up all the bases - Sacktober
A simulated game for injured Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield - Mocktober
A game full of singles - Knocktober
Oddsmaking experts promote their Locktober! pick.
I'm not sure how one of the networks restrained themselves from declaring There's Only One FOXtober!Or how TBS has avoided Franktober!

Monday, September 22, 2008

MLB - September 22 - Check Me Out at

September 22 - I found a new outlet for my baseball commentary. Check out my new website, National Pastime.

September 21 - What a night of celebration in Chicago - car door slamming and who knows what else after the Cubs clinched the NL Central title with a 5-4 win over the Cardinals on Saturday afternoon. The Cubs racked up five quick runs and then held on after a three-run homer by Troy Glaus cut the margin to one. This is the Cubs second consecutive NL Central title and third playoff spot in six years. Break up the Cubs!

Tampa Bay's first sellout crowd of the season enjoyed a celebration of their own as the Rays clinched their first-ever playoff spot. Their 7-2 win over the Twins assured the Rays of at least the AL wild card position. A 2-1/2 game lead over the Red Sox gives the Rays about a 90% chance of being AL East champions. All this with one of the lowest payrolls in MLB, and from a franchise with a previous season high of 70 wins. All praise and honor to the Rays! It will be easy to root for them in the AL playoffs, and maybe even the World Series, as long as the Phillies (and maybe the Cubs) aren't the opponents.

Not Quite 100% - It's too early to celebrate in Philadelphia, but more nights like Saturday will result in the Phillies' second straight post-season ( puts the Phillies overall chance of making the playoffs at 97.5%). The Phillies survived the Marlins by a nervewracking 3-2 score. Perhaps both offenses were exhausted after Friday's 14-8 slugfest. Hitters one through five for the Phils went 1-19 with 1 RBI and nine strikeouts. Fortunately, Shane Victorino and Greg Dobbs showed up and contributed a homer, double and Dobbs' game-winning RBI single. The Marlins chipped in with two errors to produce an unearned run. The Phils may have caught a break in the 7th, when the Marlins put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs. Jorge Cantu tried to score on a grounder to third, but was thrown out at the plate by Phils 3B Greg Dobbs on a very close play. The replay showed that Cantu may have pushed Carlos Ruiz' foot off the plate before Ruiz applied the tag, but the out call held. The rest of the Marlins offense was about as weak as the Phillies - 16 strikeouts, nine by starter Joe Blanton in five innings, and including all three outs recorded by Phillies closer Brad Lidge in his 39th save in as many chances.

When Your Pitcher is Your Best Hitter - The Mets had a strange game in Atlanta as future-Hall-of-Fame starter Pedro Martinez had a better game with the bat (double and 2 RBI) than he did pitching (4 ER in 6 IP, including a grim three-run first). The rest of the Mets offense never got started against any of four Braves pitchers, as the Braves won 4-2.

Coming Up - The two games flipped the NL East standings, giving the Phils a half-game lead with seven to play (eight for the Mets). Philadelphia continues its series in Florida later this afternoon - Jamie Moyer opposes Chris Volstad. The matchup may favor the Marlins and Volstad has pitched very well lately, while Moyer was hit hard by the Braves in his last start. The 21-year-old Volstad (he'll be 22 on Tuesday) started the season in Double A. Moyer, now 45, pitched in major league games for the Chicago Cubs in 1986, months before Volstad was born.

The Mets send Mike Pelfrey (13-10) against Braves' rookie James Parr. Through two innings, it's looking good for the Mets as they lead 4-1.

Becoming an increasingly peripheral story, the Milwaukee meltdown continued with a 4-3 loss to Cincinnati. They do lead the Reds 4-1 through four innings of the series finale today.

September 20 - Miami Heat Wilts Phils - I got a better night's sleep so I'm up during daylight hours watching the Ryder Cup and reviewing last night's baseball action.

While watching the Rays-Twins game on ESPN, I followed the Phils-Marlins, first on and then on, which provided far superior coverage.

You'd think that in a game where they scored in five separate innings, hit three homers and scored eight runs, the Phils would have a chance to beat even the red-hot Marlins. Wrong! A five-run first and six-run fifth propelled the Fish to a relatively easy 14-8 win in Miami. After a brilliant complete game win against Milwaukee in his last start, Phils' starter Brett Myers gave up 10 earned runs in four-plus innings. After 17 pitches in the first inning, the Marlins had five hits and five runs. Despite the bad start, the Phillies were still in the game, even leading 6-5 after yet another homer (number 46 on the season) from Ryan Howard. But the Marlins replayed the first in their fifth, a six-run assault capped by a 3-run homer from backup shortstop Alfredo Amezaga. So much for getting a break with Hanley Ramirez out of the lineup. Late in the game the Marlins fielded a batter with a .900 batting average - rookie CF Cameron Maybin, who was 9-10 in his brief major league career to that point. An out dropped his average to .818. Still 4-1/2 games behind the Phils for the wild card with just eight games to play, the Marlins are a longshot for the post-season, but so were the Rockies last year.

New Leader - The Mets took care of business, beating the Braves 9-5 in a game that was close most of the way. A late double with two on broke a 5-5 tie. New York takes over first in NL East from the Phils by 1/2 game.

Battered - The Brewers continued their recent collapse with an embarrassing 11-2 loss to Cincinnati, in which the Reds hit seven home runs. Jeff Suppan and Manny Parra absorbed the battering. They trail the Phils by two games in the wild card standings. Oh yeah, the Brewers' elimination number vs. the Cubs in NL Central is one. The Brewers must win all their remaining games while the Cubs lose all theirs just to get to a one-game playoff. I don't even think the Rockies did that, though they did win a one-game playoff.

And Stretched? The Cubs' prospects of winning NL Central took a very small hit, but the confidence of one of their pitchers may have taken a large one as Carlos Zambrano followed his historic no-hitter with a 1.2 6 8 8 3 1 pitching line in the Cubs' 12-6 loss to the Cardinals. Maybe his tired rotator cuff needed another long rest. Zambrano was stretched beyond expectations by his no-hitter, from which he couldn't be removed based on pitch count. Cubs' fans will be watching Zambrano's next start anxiously.

Replay Reversal - ESPN's game had a lot of promise - two contending teams and my favorite analyst Orel Hershiser in the booth. The Rays quickly removed any suspense about the outcome with six runs in the first two innings vs. Twins' starter Nick Blackburn. Now 2-1/2 games back of the White Sox, Minnesota's hopes hinge on a three-game series with the Sox starting on Tuesday. Before then the Twins have to survive two more games with the Rays. The win put the Rays within one win of clinching at least a wild card spot in the playoffs. Cool.

The most dramatic moment in the game came with the score already 6-0 when Rays' slugger Carlos Pena hit a high drive to right field with two runners on. Seemingly headed toward the stands and a home run, the ball suddenly bounced back onto the field. The umpire with the call signaled ground rule double. From my comfy couch I cried, "Replay! Home run!" The new replay rule was developed exactly for this situation, to determine whether a ball cleared a barrier for a home run. The TV replay showed that the umpire's call was based on the belief that a fan reached into the field of play to deflect the ball back into play. My call was that the ball was already in the stands when the fan dropped it.

A few minutes in the replay room confirmed my view for the umpires. The crew chief emerged, circling his hand in the "home run" motion. This was the first on-field call reversed by the new replay system. The Rays scored two more runs and the fan watched the rest of the game from his seat, rather than being ejected for interfering for a ball in play.

Substance Over Style - The Red Sox kept pace with the Rays with a 4-3 win over the Blue Jays in a game played in retro uniforms. Arrayed in their blue popsicle knits, the Jays had to believe it's better to play good than look good.

Thome, Thome, Thome - The White Sox improved their prospects dramatically with a nice 9-4 win over Kansas City, breaking the Royals' 7-game winning streak. Jim Thome hit his 33rd HR of the season, number 540 of his remarkably productive career. Thome is 38 years old. Another season as a DH could put him in the all-time top ten for home runs, although Alex Rodriguez, with 553 homers, will probably beat him to the spot. Two more seasons would allow Thome to challenge Frank Robinson's total of 586, currently seventh on the all-time list. I probably need to advance Thome into "sure thing" status for the Hall of Fame.

September 19 - Phils Enjoy Southern Hospitality - It's early Friday morning and I hope the sleeping pill hasn't sunk in too deeply.

There was plenty of action in both leagues yesterday to keep us awake. In the afternoon thriller, the Milwaukee Brewers were fewer than 2" from a 6-2, rubber-game win over the Cubs. But those 2" were the distance betweeen Brewers' LF Ryan Braun's glove and a Cubs' fly ball with two outs and no one on in the bottom of the ninth. Reputedly a reasonable fielder in LF, Braun got a poor jump on the sinking liner and watched it sail under his glove and skitter away for a double. A couple batters later, the Cubs had a run in and two runners on for rookie C Geovany Soto, who cemented his Rookie of the Year Award with a game-tying three run HR into the left-centerfield bleachers. A game seemingly won by Brewers is now tied at six.

Squandered chances summarize the 10th and 11th, most egregiously by the Brewers, who put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs and still couldn't score. Soto's attempt for two-sided hero button fell into Corey Hart's glove with two outs and two on in the 11th.

The Cubs got their big hit in the 12th, a single by Derrek Lee with men on second and third to get a great 7-6 win and cut their NL Central magic number to two. After a "routine" win yesterday, the Brewers got another skunky batch that may take days to wash off their palates. Ryan Braun moved from 3B to LF for defensive reasons. I wonder if new manager Dale Sveum will consider a late-inning defensive replacement. With a 4-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth, you're really not counting on your slugging left fielder to get another time at bat. The Phillies use this strategy with LF Pat "The Bat" Burrell; I'm not sure who is caddy is now that Jayson Werth as a regular gig in RF. Could be ageless So Taguchi, or a young OF off the 40-man roster.

Even though they're leading NL East, the Phils have to feel good about putting another game between themselves and the Brewers if it comes to that. The Phils won a spine-tingler Thursday night, 4-3 over the Braves. Amazingly this was the Phils' ninth straight win over the Braves in The Ted during the 2008 season. Without those nine wins, the Phils are a dreary 33-36 on the road.

Cole Hamels and Mike Hampton matched up in this one. The Phils started well with a 2-run first aided by an error. Ryan Howard drove in his MLB-leading 138th run with a single through the shift. The Braves quickly tied the game on recent acquisition Casey Kotchman's 1st NL homer. The game continued tied 2-2 until the top of the sixth when Pat Burrell ripped a long home run to left off Hampton. Hampton pitched through the seventh, giving up just two earned runs, an encouraging sign for a great athlete and competitor since he signed a long-term deal with the Braves several years ago. The Astros fan in me says he never should have left Houston, where the fans loved his small stature and big heart. It's good to see Mike pitching again. I wish him lots of luck now that the Phils are out of town.

The Phils gave back an unearned run on Jimmy Rollins' failure to catch a popup that was probably Pat Burrell's ball. Brad Lidge made the error moot with a strong 9th (2Ks, the last against league-leading hitter Chipper Jones to end the game) for his 38th save in 38 chances. Despite my preference for position players and starters over relievers, I have to say that the Phils got the better so far of last off-season's deal with the Astros. The 'Stros got young, speedy OF Michael Bourn (.225, 5 HR, 25 RBI, slew of SB). Lidge has posted 38 saves in 38 chances, and solidified the end of the bullpen so that relievers Chad Durbin, JC Romero and Ryan Madson have been able to settle into their roles. Assuming the Phils get there, let's hope that Lidge doesn't contract playoff fever. At least it seems that his nemesis (isn't he every pitcher's nemesis) Alberto Pujols won't be there.

I have less to say about the Mets 7-2 win over the Nationals, other than that a loss might have crushed their spirit. Johan Santana started for the Mets, pitched seven strong innings, and left the on-and-off bullpen with a lead they couldn't lose.

So the NL standings still find PHL over NYM by 1/2 game in NL East. The Cubs magic number over the Brewers is just two. The Crew is 1-1/2 games behind NYM for the wild card. Both lurking and streaking are the Florida Marlins, winners of eight straight, and now just 5 games back of the Mets. They have just 10 games left, but six of them are with the Phils (three this weekend in Miami) and Mets (three next weekend at Shea). With the same 80-72 record as the Marlins but heading in the other direction are the Astros, losers of five straight after their hurricane-caused exile from Houston to "neutral site" games with the Cubs in Milwaukee.

Oh yeah, my AL Rookie of Year candidate Evan Longoria of Tampa Bay bolstered his case with three HRs in an 11-8 loss to Minnesota. The Rays still lead the Red Sox by 1-1/2 games. Minnesota's big win pulled them to within 1-1/2 games of the White Sox, who got pounded 9-2 by the Yankees, as various Yankee hitters swing for special prizes (or maybe that next contract) in "the last week of Yankee Stadium." Sadly, ESPN is planning to follow this story ad nauseum on Sunday. At least the Yanks play the White Sox, who are contending.

September 17 - Rookies of Year - Back to this subject, which I blithely sluffed off during last week's update. Fifteen seconds of thought would have identified two great candidates - Tampa Bay 3B Evan Longoria in the AL (voted onto All-Star team by the fans as the last reserve), and Chicago C Geovany Soto in the NL (voted onto All-Star team as a starter). Both players have had decent second halves, although Longoria had a stint on the DL. I'm going with these guys, though here are some other names worthy of consideration.

I know that OF Jacoby Ellsbury has started most of the season for the Red Sox, and leads the AL in stolen bases. Twins SP Kevin Slowey is a possibility. He's 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA and two shutouts. He pitched 66 innings in 2007, so I'm not sure that he's a rookie. New York's Joba Chamberlain got a lot of attention and pitched 95 innings to a 4-3 record and 2.56 ERA before shutting down. A clearer role and more innings would have helped his cause. 23-year-old lefty John Danks has had a nice season with the White Sox with a 10-8 record and 3.32 ERA. I'm surprised to see him listed as a rookie in that he threw 139 IP in 2007.

In the NL, Cubs' OF Kosuke Fukudome, although 31-years-old and a veteran of many seasons in Japan, qualifies as a MLB rookie. His weak hitting in the second half (BA down to .261) will probably keep him from being named Rookie of the Year, despite being voted onto the All-Star starting lineup. In a similar situation is Dodger pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who in his first MLB season after many years in Japan, is 9-10 with a 3.77 ERA; nice for a fourth starter, but probably not award-worthy.

September 17 - Deja Vu in NL East? Both the Phillies and Mets must have a sense of deja vu this morning as the NL East pennant race unfolds. Led by a late-inning triple and HR from streaky slugger (and more frequently mentioned as MVP candidate) Ryan Howard, the Phils pulled off a thrilling 8-7 win over the Braves in Atlanta, while the Mets pounded both their bats and psyches into the ground in a galling 1-0 loss to the last-place Nationals. The outcomes put the Phillies up by 1/2-game in NL East, a situation that must look eerily similar to the Mets' historic collapse in 2007.

The Mets can be comforted, I guess, in holding their own 1/2-game lead in the wild card standings over the slumping Brewers, who lost their fifth straight; this one to the Cubs 5-4. The Brewers' loss came in a game started by heretofore unbeatable CC Sabathia, and in interim manager Dale Sveum's first game at the tap (I decided that one couldn't be at the "helm" of Brewers). The Cubs' magic number to clinch NL Central is now just four, though I imagine the Brewers' focus on the standings has moved elsewhere.

Rare for him, but consistent with what's been a high-scoring series between the Phils and Braves this year, Phils' starter Jamie Moyer had a rough outing, giving up 6 ER in 5.2 IP (though the last three runs scored on hits off relievers Chad Durbin and Scott Eyre). The bullpen hung tough in the seventh and eighth so that Howard could both drive in and score a run with a triple just over LF Omar Infante's head in the seventh, and then give the Phils the lead in the eighth with a 2-run HR to left off Braves' left hander Mike Gonzalez. Brad Lidge got his 37th save in as many attempts in a "Wild Thing"-like ninth inning that featured three walks and a game-ending strikeout.

With the 4-5 game, Howard improved his batting average to a personal season-high .249. His HR and RBI totals of 45 and 137 both lead the majors by wide margins. After being passed over for the NL All-Star team despite leading the league in both HR and RBI, Howard may be more difficult to ignore in MVP balloting, especially if the Phils hold onto a playoff spot. Still, his second half has been a microcosm of the season - .186 BA between the All-Star break and late August; an OPS of about 1.500 since. Managers are going to soon stop throwing to Howard in game-critical situations. The Phillies would be well served if LF Pat "The Bat" Burrell could break out of his second half slump.

The Mets wasted a strong start from Mike Pelphrey (7 IP, 1 ER) by scratching out just four singles and a HBP off Nationals' starter Odalis Perez and two relievers. They put two runners on with one out in the eighth, but top-of-the-order hitters Jose Reyes and Ryan Church failed to produce the clutch hit.

The Brewers loss to the Cubs was more action-packed, but still a loss as the Chicagoans amassed just enough runs off ace CC Sabathia to hold on for the win. Conceding nothing, Cubs' manager Lou Piniella used five pitchers to secure the win. Alfonso Soriano hit his club-leading 29th HR. He's missed about 1/3 of the season with injuries. In a full campaign, Soriano would have 40 HRs and 100 RBIs out of the leadoff spot and be right in the middle of NL MVP speculation. My favorite player on the 2008 Cubs is utility star Mark DeRosa (pictured above). A former QB at the University of Pennsylvania, DeRosa has put together a career year offensively with 20 HRs, 96 runs, and an 854 OPS while playing significant time at four defensive positions (RF, LF, 2B, 3B). He's also played innings at 1B and SS. Aramis Ramirez's power figures might anoint him the "best player on the best team", but for overall play, I'd chose DeRosa as the Cubs' MVP.

In a post-firing interview, former Brewers' manager Ned Yost admitted that he "didn't have the answers". If you have the answers, you should probably send them to interim manager Dale Sveum.

Braves' pitching bright spot Jair Jurrgens (13-9, 3.62 ERA) starts Wednesday's game against the Phils. Charlie Manuel counters with rookie J.A. Happ (0-0, 5.71 ERA) to take Kyle Kendrick's spot in the rotation. Kendrick has been miserable in recent starts. Two rookies take the mound in the Mets-Nats game. Brandon Knight (0-0, 6.43 ERA) will make his fourth appearance and second start for the Mets. Shairon Martis (0-2, 2.70 ERA) starts for the Nats.

In Chicago, Ben Sheets (13-8, 2.97 ERA) will try to halt the Brewers' slide. Jason Marquis (10-8, 4.36 ERA) takes the hill for the Cubs.

September 15 - Astros Blown Away - I'm in the middle of watching a potentially remarkable game as the Cubs and Astros play their second of two games in Miller Park in Milwaukee. The series was relocated from Houston by Hurricane Ike. As you probably have heard, Cubs' pitcher Carlos Zambrano pitched a no-hitter last night (10 Ks, one BB, one HBP - see photo from Nicco DiNuzzo of the Chicago Tribune). Zambrano's no-hitter was the first by a Cub pitcher since 1972 and the first at a neutral site anywhere since 1900 (though the neutrality of the largely relocated Chicagoans could be debated). Through five more innings today, the Astros still don't have a hit in the series. Today's Cub starter is Ted Lilly. Back to the TV.

The unprecedented second straight no-hit attempt lasted one through the sixth, but infielder Mark Loretta finally broke it up in the seventh with a clean single to right. Just before this hit, pinch hitter Reggie Abercrombie hit a shot to third that ate up 3B Aramis Ramirez. My first impression was of a hit, but the scorer called an error, and probably rightfully so as Ramirez played the ball off to the side rather than getting in front of it. Cubs CF Jim Edmonds also maintained the suspense in the sixth with a diving catch. I was rooting for an Astro hit. It just seemed like too much for the team to be blown across the country to play two "home" games in front of hostile crowds, only to be no-hit in consecutive games for the first time in MLB history.

The Cubs "held on" to win 6-1, as the Astros managed just the one hit in the two-game series.

More from MLB - Surprisingly, today's big story from Milwaukee was not a potential second no-hitter, but rather the firing of Brewers' manager Ned Yost with just twelve games left in the season. A grim and forboding four-game sweep in Philadelphia, which reduced the Brewers' wild card lead from four games to zero, hit a little too close to the bone for Brewers' management, who watched Yost and his team lose a big late-season lead in 2007 and miss the playoffs. Longtime coach Dale Sveum takes over as Brewers' interim (I assume) manager. Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal had an interesting take on the situation, noting that the Brewers will likely lose both pitching aces CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets to free agency, and that despite having a young, talented nucleus (Ryan Braun, JJ Hardy, Prince Fielder), this team's best chance at a post-season run is probably right now. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Using the Phillies sweep to deftly shift the focus to NL East, the boys from the City of Brotherly Love did it all to tie the Brewers and get back in the race with the Mets (1 game behind). They scored at least six in every game and gave up no more than three. In the third game they stormed back from 3-1 deficit to win 7-3 for Joe Blanton. Both unexpected and gratifying were great pitching performances by both Jamie Moyer and Brett Myers on three days rest. Myers pitched a complete game 2-hitter to close the series in the second game of a day-night doubleheader. Ryan Howard continued his slugging September ways. He now has a ML-leading 44 HRs and 133 RBI. The Mets could have a two-game lead, but their young bullpen let a 4-2 ninth inning lead turn into a 7-4 loss to the Braves. Still, the Mets have a slugging lineup (Wright, Delgado and Beltran all have 100 RBIs), Johan Santana and two games up in the loss column over the Phils. They still have to be considered the favorites.

In NL Central, the Cubs mini-sweep of the Astros, combined with the Brewers woes (3-11 in September), puts the Northsiders in great shape to win the division. Their magic number over the Brewers is just six with 14 games to play. A tough situation for the Astros and two losses in Milwaukee may have put the brakes on the hottest team in baseball (12 of 13 wins before Ike). They now trail the Phils and Brewers for the wild card by 2-1/2 games - well within range, but tougher with their spell apparently broken.

St. Louis and Florida remain on the fringes of the wild card race - 4-1/2 and 5-1/2 games back respectively. The Marlins are riding a five-game winning streak. The Cards are trying to break the same losing streak.

The Dodgers, now 4-1/2 ahead of the D-Backs, appear to have NL West under control, barring a not unprecedented 8-game losing streak. Still, the D-Backs might not have the offense to capitalize on one more Dodger slump. Giants starter Tim Lincecum remains one of the best stories of the season. The slight, 24-year-old righty pitched his first-ever complete game shutout (a four-hitter) in beating the Padres 7-0. He improved his W/L record to 17-3 and lowered his ERA to 2.43. Lincecum also leads the majors with 237 strikeouts. Arizona's prospects of catching the Dodgers will not be enhanced by facing Lincecum on Thursday night.

In the AL West , the Angels continue to play hard as they drive for the best record in the league. They lead the Rays by 2-1/2 games for this distinction, and extra home game it brings. The Rays and Red Sox battle for AL East supremacy in a three-game series starting in St. Petersburg tonight, with the Rays leading by one game (two in All Important Loss Column - as I saw this phrase written by a columnist). Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch in the first game. The Red Sox magic number over the Twins for the wild card is just eight.

The White Sox lead the Twins by 1-1/2 games in AL Central. The Sox play in New York, while the Twins go to Cleveland this week.

September 12 - Rain, Rain Go Away - I don't know what the record is (maybe ESPN does), but six major league games were postponed tonite due to rain. Four in the Northeast (at New York (2), Baltimore and Philly) and Chicago (WS), likely due to vestiges of Hurricane Gustav. Cubs vs. Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston, because of the arrival of Hurricane Ike in the area. Saturday's game between the two NL Central teams has also been postponed. Sunday's game is in limbo, with the best option presented so far being a doubleheader on otherwise open Monday and an if-needed make-up game on September 29. Having won 12 of their last 13, and dealing with the threat to their homes and families by the storm, the Astros couldn't have had a less opportune time for a hurricane to hit their home town. Still, many will have it worse, especially the "heroes" who stayed behind in Galveston, likely to be swamped by a 22 foot wall of water from storm surge.

In the few games that mattered, the LADs beat Colorado in Denver by 7-2. The Rockies reign as NL champ is very near its end, as the team has lost six straight and trails the Dodgers by 9-1/2 games with 14 to play. After losing eight in a row, the Dodgers have won 12 of 13 to take command of NL West. Arizona finally won a game, beating Cincy 3-2, but remain 3-1/2 back with just 16 to play. Across SoCal, the LAAsoA (lassos?) clinched the AL West on Thursday night by spanking the Yankees while the Rangers lost to the A's. Also on Friday, The Red Sox got a big win over Toronto, 7-0 behind the 8-inning, 3-hit pitching of Tim Wakefield, the AL's version of Jamie Moyer.

September 10 - Ray's Day - This was a good night for LAD fans. They beat SD 6-2, in SD no less. In San Francisco, the Giants blew a 4-2 lead in the top of the ninth, but scored a run in the bottom to beat the D-Backs 5-4. LAD now leads NL West by 2.5 games.

Elsewhere in the NL, the Astros are charging hard (winning 12 of 13) but their party may end soon. Much of their starting "rotation" for the next few days is either coming off injury or "to be announced". Still, they are only 4 games behind the Brewers for the wildcard and playing much better than the three teams ahead of them - Brewers, Phillies and Cards. Their offense was terrific last night in a 9-3 win over Pittsburgh. Batters 2 thru 5 went 11-17 with 8 runs scored and 6 RBI.

The Phils fell 2.5 back of the Mets by losing to the Marlins 10-8 while the Mets were beating the Nats by the same score. Philly couldn't dig all the way out of a 7-1 hole. The Mets came back from 7-5. Carlos Delgado hit two more HRs (4 in last two games). The Mets bullpen pitched 5.2 innings and gave up just one run.

In the AL, the Rays got a dramatic win over the Red Sox in Boston, scoring two runs off closer Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead. Troy Percival held off the Sox in the bottom of the ninth to stretch the Rays lead in AL East back to 1-1/2 games. In AL Central, the red hot Blue Jays (winners of 10 in a row) beat the White Sox twice while Minnesota beat KC. The White Sox lead is down to one game.

The Yankees clobbered LAA 7-1 while the Rangers beat the Mariners, postponing any celebration in Anaheim for at least one more day.

September 8 - Once again, I apologize for the very long delay between updates. Last Monday, when I might have been posting an update, we received an unwelcome visit from Gustav, Hurricane Gustav, that is. The power came back on Sunday morning. So once again, here's a two-week update.

The 2008 Major League Baseball season is down to about 20 games. The list of contending teams grows shorter, but there are still some important questions about which teams will make the post-season and who they'll play. Let's do this league by league.

In the American League, the Angels, Rays and Red Sox look to be sure things for the post-season. The Angels magic number to close out the second-place Rangers and win the AL West is just three. Angels Manager Mike Scioscia will try to keep his team sharp, organize his pitching and watch the other races with interest, as they will determine the Angels' first-round opponent. The Rays and Red Sox are locked in a close race for the AL East crown with the Rays leading by 1-1/2 games. While the Rays lead in the standings, the Sox schedule looks much more favorable with 14 home games and just 6 road games. The Rays have the opposite schedule (14 on road and 7 at home). Both teams have played .700+ ball at home and sub-.500 on the road. The Rays have a chance to negate this advantage starting tonight in a three-game series with the Sox at Fenway Park. A couple of wins would really enhance their chances to win AL East. The return of All-Star 3B Evan Longoria should help. Boston comes to Tampa in a return series starting next Monday. It will take a Mets-like collapse or two to put either the Blue Jays (now third ahead of the Yankees after an 8-game winning streak) or the Yankees in the post-season.

I wavered on how the AL Central would shake out; first thinking that the return of Francisco Liriano would favor the Twins and then seeing how a preponderance of road games might hurt them. The latter has played out so far, as the Twins are now 2-1/2 games behind the White Sox, despite the Sox winning just four of their last ten games. Both teams have 10 road games left. The Sox have a tough immediate task, hosting the red-hot Blue Jays in a four-game series while the Twins host the Royals. If they can stay close, the Twins will have a last shot at the Sox in a three-game series in Minnesota during the last week of the season. An AL Central wild card slot is mathematically possible, but unlikely as the Twins trail the Red Sox by 6-1/2 games. Even the White Sox trail their Red brethren by four full games.

I now expect the AL post-season matchups to be Angels vs. Rays (wild card) and Red Sox vs. White Sox.

The National League offers more uncertainty about which teams will qualify, as close races exist in both NL East and NL West. I'll start with the NL Central, where the Cubs hold a four-game lead over the Brewers and seem like sure thing for the post-season, though a recent 3-7 stretch might give Brewer fans hope that they could still win the division. Worrisome for the Cubs has been Carlos Zambrano's tired arm, which caused him to miss a couple of starts. Buoyed by the amazing pitching of second-half rental CC Sabathia, who missed pitching a no-hitter because of his own poor fielding play, the Brewers trail the Cubs by four games and lead the Phillies by the same margin for the wild card. There's not much season left, but it's still not impossible for either the Cards or Astros to sneak in for the wild card. Winners of nine of their last ten to go nine games over .500, the Astros look like the more likely candidate. They have four games at home with lowly Pittsburgh this week, which could propel them closer to the playoff mix.

In NL East, the Mets and Phillies will battle for the crown and likely the lone playoff spot. In a just-completed three-game series in New York, both teams did the minimum they needed to do. Behind fabulous starts by Brett Myers (CG, 3H, 10K) and Jamie Moyer (7 IP, 2 H), the Phils won the first two games to pull within a game of the New Yorkers. The Mets rallied behind Johan Santana (7 IP, 2R) and Carlos Delgado (2 HRs) in the third game to maintain a 2-game margin. The season series between the two teams is over. The schedule favors the Mets who have boatloads of games with the NL East weak sisters, Atlanta and Washington. The Phillies have six games with the Marlins and a series with Brewers in their next two weeks of play.

Someone will win the NL West. The list of contenders still hasn't expanded beyond the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. A "where-did-that-come-from" eight-game winning streak (still alive) has launched the Dodgers into first place, 1-1/2 games ahead of the D-Backs. The "Blues", as my online friends call them, finished their season series with the D-Backs with a nifty three-game sweep in LA. The rest of the schedule is either good news or bad news for LAD, depending on how you look at it. The good news is that all their remaining games are against teams with sub-.500 records. The bad news is that the next 10 of these games are on the road, where the Dodgers have a grim 28-40 record. The Dodgers finish in San Francisco, where the Giants and their fans could salvage something from their lackluster season by knocking their arch-rivals out of the post-season. Games with the Rockies and Giants make up much of Arizona's remaining schedule. If their offense can rebound from a dismal weekend in LA (5 runs in 3 games), the D-Backs should be able to make a strong run. Worrisome for the D-Backs are Randy Johnson's sore shoulder that caused him to miss Sunday's start against the Dodgers, and recent poundings taken by staff ace Brandon Webb, which have ballooned his ERA to 3.41 and diminished his "sure-thing" status for the NL Cy Young Award. I suspect he's more concerned about getting his act together to carry his team into the playoffs.

My current NL playoff picks - Mets vs Brewers (wild card) and Cubs vs. (ahem) Dodgers.

It may be a little early to get into individual honors, but why should I leave myself out of a discussion that's raging elsewhere. For AL MVP, White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin knocked himself out of contention with a self-inflicted (accidental) injury. Roaring to the top of the field is Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia, who now leads the AL in batting at .330 with a ton of extra base hits. Pedroia is on the field and at the top of an otherwise variable Red Sox lineup every day. Teammate Kevin Youkilis is a personal favorite. His offensive statistics and durability compare favorably to Pedroia. Other contenders could be Tampa Bay slugger Carlos Pena (despite a low batting average), perennial contender Alex Rodriguez, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer from the Twins, White Sox OF Jermaine Dye, Indians OF Grady Sizemore, and Ranger stat machines Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler.

For AL Cy Young, Indians' ace Cliff Lee stands pretty clear of the field with 21 wins and a league-leading 2.28 ERA (154 K, 28 BB and just 8 HR in 202 IP). Second choice would be Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay. Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez and his likely all-time record save total (currently three short at 54) will get some consideration, but great starters like Lee and Halladay should clearly be favored, having covered three times as many innings as K-Rod.

AL Rookie of Year
will take some research. I'll get back to you next week.
AL Manager of Year will go to Rays' skipper Joe Maddon. I think the Twins' Ron Gardenhire deserves serious consideration for blending mediocre individual talents into a winning team. Still Maddon's "worst-to-first" performance with the downtrodden Rays will carry the day.

In the NL, the MVP field is somewhat smaller. The winner will come out of a group including Mets sluggers David Wright and Carlos Delgado, Phillies 2B Chase Utley, Braves 3B Chipper Jones, Cubs 3B Aramis Ramirez, Cards 1B Albert Pujols, and Astros 1B Lance Berkman. Manny Ramirez would be in there if he'd played the whole year in the NL. Wright will get dinged for clutch hitting (less than .240 with men in scoring position); Delgado for a slow start (hit below .240 for the first half); Jones for playing for a loser and missing time with injuries. This brings the field to Utley, A. Ramirez, Pujols and Berkman. Utley drops by the wayside for a sluggish second half. Berkman has been great all year and A. Ramirez is the "best player on the best team", but my choice is the incomparable Albert Pujols. In a year without a player who has truly carried his team to victory, Pujols leads the majors with a .466 OBP, .646 slugging percentage, and 1114 OPS (leads by almost 100 points), and has drawn 93 BB while striking out just 48 times. He is a wonderful fielder at first base. I saw a play this year where he fielded a grounder at first and threw the runner out at third on a force play. Few 1B would try that play and many would throw the ball into left field. Pujols also provides great leadership to a young, rebuilding team that had a very poor 2007 season after winning it all in 2006, another year in which he should have been MVP. The more I write, the more I like Albert Pujols as the 2008 NL MVP.

I think that the Giants' Tim Lincecum (15-3, 2.60 ERA, 216 K in 190 IP with only 10 HRs surrendered) should be a clear choice for NL Cy Young. Brandon Webb's 19 wins for Arizona will get some attention, but his ERA has soared recently to 3.44. Ryan Dempster with 15 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA will get some vote as the "best pitcher on the best team". Johan Santana might be the best pitcher in the league right now, but his slow start and low win total (just 13) will hurt his chances. Like Manny Ramirez, Brewers' ace CC Sabathia would be a strong candidate for the award if he'd played the whole year in the NL, but I don't think that split years qualify for league awards.

Again, NL Rookie of Year requires research. Check back next week.

NL Manager of the Year
looks like an almost sure thing for Sweet Lou Piniella, who has Cubs' fans thinking about the team's first World Series appearance in 63 years.

Note - I missed one good MVP candidate from the NL - Florida's outrageously talented SS Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez is hitting .294 (OPS over 900) with 29 HRs and 108 runs. A strong case could have been made for him being the 2007 MVP as he outhit winner Jimmy Rollins by a wide margin while playing the same position. Ramirez's 2008 stats are behind his 2007 campaign, making it very unlikely that he'll be named the MVP.

In which dadlak makes up for lost time with a very long update, and with renewed hope for his favorite team.

August 25 - Welcome Back dadlak -Blogging the Olympics and seeking medical treatment didn't leave quite enough time for an MLB update last week. I'll try to get back on an at-least weekly schedule or more frequently if events warrant.

NL East - This close-to-my-heart division is at the front of my mind too today after I watched the Phillies exciting extra-inning win over the Dodgers on ESPN last night. After a miserable 2-5 West Coast road trip (which included a four-game sweep at Dodger Stadium), the Phils rebounded to take two-of-three from Washington and three in a row from Los Angeles at home. Their long-slumbering offense even showed signs of awakening by scoring 17 games in two games vs. LA. The Mets pulled out to a 2-1/2 game lead, but fell back to just 1/2 game ahead after losing two straight to the Astros. The bullpen has been a big issue for the New Yorkers since Billy Wagner went to the DL. The Mets and Manager Jerry Manuel has decided to go with the closer-by-committee model rather than searching the waiver wire for a replacement. Ominously for the Phils, Mets' ace Johan Santana seems to be rounding into multiple-Cy Young form. The Marlins are just three games over .500, and also just five games out of first. They could still be a factor, but seem to be heading in the wrong direction. The Nationals broke a 13-game losing streak, but still trail by 2-1/2 games behind the Mariners for the worst record in baseball. Their "worstness" is magnified by playing in the National League, which lost the Interleague series to the AL by a wide margin once again. On the first pass of this paragraph, I forgot about the Braves, maybe deservedly so for a team who've lost eight of their last ten to fall 15-1/2 games out of first.

NL Central - The Phils trip to Wrigley Field this weekend could result in a matchup of division leaders. The Cubs continue their excellent play and hold a 4-1/2 game lead over the surging Brewers, who look more and more like the NL wild card team. Brewers rent-a-pitcher CC Sabathia has been in Randy Johnson-like Cy Young form since moving over (8-0 with five complete games and 1.59 ERA in 10 starts). Converting reliever Ryan Dempster into a starter has proved to be a great move for the Cubs. Dempster has a 14-5 record and 2.92 ERA with a club-leading 149 strikeouts in 164 innings, outpitching more famous and better-paid teammate Carlos Zambrano (but not outhitting - Zambrano's OPS is 972 vs. Dempster's 382). Dempster has dropped a remarkable 16 successful sacrifice bunts, twice any other Cubs' player. The Cardinals are just 3-1/2 games out of the wild card. Surprisingly, the once offensively-challenged Cardinals now seem solid in that department with the amazing Albert Pujols and solid Ryan Ludwick and Troy Glaus scoring lots of runs. The pitching staff gave up eight to the meager Braves on Saturday, wasting a great game by Pujols (2 doubles and a home run). The Astros are trying to stay close enough to help Lance Berkman win the MVP award. As in most recent years, the Reds and Pirates are looking to next year. Both teams are more than 20 games out of first.

2008's version of 2007's NL East or 2006's NL Central is the NL West. The Diamondbacks, despite being just six games over .500, lead the Dodgers by three games. Arizona helped their offense by acquiring slugger Adam Dunn from the Reds. FOX studio baseball hostess Jeannie Zelasko (queen of the Fox's big-hair broadcasting crew) had a great pregame line about Joe Torre, how he's basking in the SoCal sunshine "and watching the waves of Hall of Famers roll in", the latter a reference to the Dodgers recent acquisitions of Manny Ramirez from the Red Sox and Greg Maddux from the Padres. Maddux had one good start in blue but then gave up seven runs to the Phillies, not an easy thing to do. In fact, another big, but highly unlikely, winning streak could even put the Rockies (now 10 under .500 and 8 games out of first) back in first (though I've been saying this for several weeks). With the rise of young pitching ace Tim Lincecum, the Giants are somewhat less boring, but still no threat in the pennant race. The Padres are inexplicably awful, sharing a 48-82 record with the almost equally disappointing Mariners.

AL East - The Tampa Bay Rays have to be the best "worst-to-first" story in baseball since the 1969 Miracle Mets. Their management ought to get some film of the Mets to help convince the Rays that they can go all the way. Pitching continues to carry the AL East leaders as nine AL teams have scored more runs, but only one, the Blue Jays, have allowed fewer runs than Tampa Bay's total of 515. Much of the charm of the story comes from the Rays (nee Devil Rays) previous 10-year history, during which they amassed a winning percentage under .400 (.399 to be exact), and a season-high victory total of just 70. They now have 79 wins in 2008. Injuries to Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria were supposed to be crippling, but the Rays have won 7 of their last 10 and hold a 4-1/2 game lead over the Red Sox. The Sox have injury problems of their own, as outfielder J.D. Drew recently joined their hobbled ranks. Their lineup on Sunday vs. Toronto included such offensive liablities as Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, Alex Cora, and Coco Crisp along with rookie Jed Lowrie filling in for Mike Lowell, who's on the DL. Obviously, established hitters such as David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis (who's emerging as a possible MVP candidate), Jason Bay, and Dustin Pedroia will have to be at top form for the Sox to make a run at the Rays, and to even hold on to the wild card over the Yankees and AL Central runnerup (either Twins or White Sox). Pitching ace Josh Beckett has also had some arm troubles. The situation with the Yankees will be clarified this week in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium, the last regular season games between the teams at The House That Ruth Built. The Blue Jays continue to have a frustrating season - streaks of competence, but not enough overall to get in contention in the tough AL East. They're three games over .500 and three games behind the Yankees in fourth. Even seven games below .500, the Orioles have far exceeded my expectations. DH Aubrey Huff has been the best in the AL at that position (925 OPS), and Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts and Luke Scott have all emerged as contributors. With a .402 OBP, Markakis is particularly exciting at just 24-years-old.

Two relatively anonymous teams (at least to me) are battling for the top spot in AL Central. Both the White Sox (currently up by 1/2 game) and the Twins play great on the home (winning 2 of 3 or better) and poorly on the road (sub-.500) and have a combination of familiar and unknown players. Best known for the Sox are OF Jermaine Dye, C A J Piersynzski, 3B Joe Crede (all holdovers from the 2005 world champions), DH Jim Thome, 1B Paul Konerko, and of course OF Ken Griffey, Jr., recently acquired from Cincinnati. Lesser known are OF Carlos Quentin, who will become much better known if he wins the AL MVP award, which he could do with 36 HRs, 99 RBIs and 975 OPS so far this year and SS Orlando Cabrera, who's not a great offensive player, but is a dependable major league shortstop who's played recently on several playoff teams, most notably the 2004 World Series champs in Boston. Cabrera is also well known by his banker, as he signed a $10 million per year contract with the Sox. CF Nick Swisher came over from the A's to fill the CF void left by Aaron Rowand's move to the NL. On the mound, rookie starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd have the best ERAs and W/L records. Veterans Javier Vasquez and Mark Buehrle have been good enough. Bobby Jenks has done terrific work as the Sox closer, with 26 saves and a 1.71 ERA in 46 appearances. For the more budget-conscious Twins, the known quantities are former MVP Justin Morneau at 1B, and All-Star Joe Mauer behind the plate. Manager Ron Gardenhire seems to do a great job juggling the rest of the roster as no one's stats really stand out, and only youngsters LF Delmon Young and CF Carlos Gomez, acquired from Tampa Bay and the Mets respectively, have played in at least 120 games, and them to OPS of only 730 and 639 respectively. Somehow it all adds up, as the Twins are fifth in the AL in runs scored, despite being 7th in OBP, 9th in Slugging and 13th in home runs. Pitchingwise, the best thing the Twins do is avoid walking opposing hitters. They're first in that category while being seventh in ERA. By far their most impressive pitcher is closer Joe Nathan, with an 0.98 ERA and 35 saves in 55 appearances. Slightly better than average has worked otherwise, as young starters Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey share the ERA lead among starters at 3.74 and Glen Perkins leads the team in wins with 11. None makes more than $425,000 for the season. Again, manager Gardenhire is doing a great job managing his talent. Only Boof Bonser has thrown a significant number of innings (just over 100) while posting a terrible ERA (6.22). The Twins hopes are buoyed by the comeback of young supertalent Francisco Liriano, who won 13 games in 2007 before being injured. Less promising is a long road trip in early September made necessary by the Republican National Convention. The Tigers have been among MLB's most disappointing teams this year, as talk of a superteam with the acquisition of Marlins Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis has been met with the walk of a team two games under .500 with the sixth ranked offense and ninth ranked pitching in the AL. Will management try again next year with this crew, or continue with the breakup that began with waiving Gary Sheffield and trading Pudge Rodriguez? The Indians have won seven in a row, but it's far too little and too late to get back to the playoff spot that they (and I) expected. They already jettisoned CC Sabathia and Casey Blake. 2007 postseason relief star Rafael Betancourt has been a disaster in 2008 (6+ ERA). It will be interesting to see which direction they go next year. As for the Royals, well, they're the Royals and apparently immune from ever contending.

Being a two-week report, this wrapup has gotten a little long, so I summarize the AL West. Angels, Angels, Angels - now by 17 games with Francisco Rodriguez just posting his 50th save. The Rangers' recent slump has jeopardized any hope that Josh Hamilton or Ian Kinsler had in the MVP voting. The As are boring. The Mariners are terrible, despite putting Ichiro on the field every game (counternote - Ichiro's 754 OPS isn't very imposing - he's been a singles-hitting machine this year - just 14 doubles, 6 triples and 5 homers among 171 hits, with a modest 45 walks in 130 games). Baseball stats guru Bill James noted years ago that singles hitters without high OBPs and no power are among baseball's most overrated players.

In which dadlak's report devolves into a serial injury report. Later, he revisits Randy Johnson's remarkable 2008 season.

August 10 - Ouch, That Hurts! The season is almost three-quarters complete, but only one division appears settled. With a 14-game lead and repeat successes against the Red Sox and Yankees, the Angels look like a sure thing in AL West and a favorite to reach the World Series. Tampa Bay continues to hold the lead in AL East (now 4.5 games over Boston), but 26 road games and an untested nature makes the Rays no more than an odds-on favorite to win AL East. Six games ahead of the Twins and 8.5 over the Yankees, the Rays look solid for at least a wildcard spot in the playoffs, barring a complete collapse.

In the National League, the East could be won by any of three teams, the division-leading Phils, the Mets, or the surprising Marlins, who continue to get enough homers and just enough pitching to stay in the race. The Cubs have what Billy Packer might call a "working margin" in the Central, four games over the Brewers, and six over the Cards. At 16 games over .500, the Brewers are in good shape for the wildcard, but if you check back to last year's post on this date, I didn't hold out much hope for the Phillies and Rockies, who both made the playoffs. The Diamondbacks manage to stay just over .500 and just ahead of the Dodgers.

AL East - With an 11-3 win over the Mariners, the division-leading Rays posted their 71st win of the season, a franchise record (previous best was 70 wins in 2004). The Rays also welcomed injured outfielder Rocco Baldelli (pictured above), a participant in many then-Devil Ray losses, back to their lineup. Baldelli takes Carl Crawford's place on the roster as Crawford went on the 15-day DL with a hand jury. Baldelli may be rusty--he's played just 35 games since the start of the 2007 season (none this year), and even missed 70 games of the 2006 season. In that season, his best statistically of four major league seasons, Baldelli was a swing-and-a-miss guy, walking just 14 times against 70 strikeouts in 364 at-bats. Overall, Baldelli hit .302 in 2006 with an OPS of 872, but this is by far his best production. His return is a nice emotional story, but I doubt it will help the Rays much in their playoff quest. The Red Sox sent veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield to the 15-day DL; no indication that Curt Schilling is ready to take his place on the roster. In fact, the Sox injury report lists Schilling as out for the season. David Ortiz recently came off the DL, but hasn't contributed much, particularly since teammate Manny Ramirez went to the Dodgers. Since the trade, Ortiz is 3-for-28 with seven strikeouts and just five walks, as opposing pitchers seem comfortable pitching to him. The Yankees also put a starting pitcher on the DL as Joba Chamberlain went out with rotator cuff tendinitis. The Yankees will be hard-pressed to make up their standing without Chamberlain either starting or setting up. Yankee starters Chien-Ming Wang and Carl Pavano are also on the DL. According to Yankee manager Joe Girardi, Wang isn't expected back this season. Wang suffered a foot tendon injury while running the bases in an interleague game. Pavano, whom the Yankees snatched up at $11 million per season after an 18-8 season with the Marlins in 2004, has pitched just 111 innings in pinstripes in the last four years. He did pitch 3.2 scoreless innings in a rehab start with Trenton on August 8. A healthy Pavano pitching the Yankees into the playoffs would be a wonderful story, but probably needs a good fiction writer to make it happen.

The White Sox and Twins have been swapping first and second in AL Central. On Sunday the Sox nipped the Red Sox 6-5 while the Twins lost 5-4 in 12 innings to the Royals to put the Sox up by a slim half-game. Both teams have been great at home, but lackluster on the road. The return of Twins' starter Francisco Liriano could put them over the top. Liriano was almost unhittable in 2007 (12-3, 2.16 ERA) before being sidelined by injury. In his first two starts coming back from an April injury, Liriano is 2-0 with a 2.23 ERA. Tigers are no worse off than the Rockies were last year at this time, but they haven't developed any traction, losing seven of their last ten games.

Setting up their rotation for the postseason and staying healthy are the main challenges for the Angels, who lead the Rangers by 14 games in AL West. The Angels showed some vulnerability in a hideous 14-9 loss to the Yankees in which they made four errors (three in a six-run eighth inning that gave the game back to the Yankees after new 1B Mark Teixiera had given them a 9-8 lead with a grand slam home run). The Angels beat the Yankees in the other two games of the series in New York and swept a three-game series in Anaheim this weekend, one that ended when Mariano Rivera surrendered a game-ending single to Chone Figgins.

I started with the AL this week because of a discussion on another site, but my heart is still in the NL with the East-leading Phillies, who enjoy a two-game margin over the Mets despite a 23-inning scoreless streak in midweek. A 3-0 blanking by the Marlins was followed by a 12-inning 2-0 loss to the Pirates. Once the Phils started scoring again, they beat Pittsburgh 4-2 and 6-3 to solidify their division lead. Hopefully, the offense will stay energized as the team heads out for a seven-game West Coast road trip. News on the pitching front was mixed. Brett Myers turned in another strong outing on Saturday, but Brad Lidge was unavailable on Sunday due to a "sluggish shoulder". Tom Gordon also appears to be done for the season, as he considers "Tommy John" surgery on his 40-year-old pitching elbow. The Mets have stayed close despite having 13 players, including closer Billy Wagner and starting pitcher John Maine, on the DL. The Braves take second to no one for pitching injuries, having lost future Hall of Famer John Smoltz and staff ace Tim Hudson for the season along with Tom Glavine and reliever Rafael Soriano for lengthy periods.

In NL Central, the Cubs hold a four-game lead over the Brewers despite playing without closer Kerry Wood (first a blister, then a sore back) on a day-to-day basis. Staff ace Carlos Zambrano got blasted in a 12-3 loss to the Cards, but the team recovered behind Ryan Dempster to beat the Cards 6-2 and take the three-game series. The Brewers remain within sight of the Cubs and in good shape for the wildcard, despite a dugout shoving match between star 1B Prince Fielder and starting pitcher Matt Parra. Fielder later apologized for his role in the fight. The Astros lost NL RBI leader Carlos Lee to a season-ending injury, but pulled within a game of .500. At 12-1/2 games behind the Cubs and 8-1/2 out of the wild card, the Astros remain a very long shot to replay their late-season rush to playoffs of 2005 (or was it 2004?)

What can you say about NL West? Any team that stays above .500 has a great chance to win it. Today, that team is Arizona at 60-58. Like the Tigers in the AL, the Rockies can't get it together enough to threaten. They lost 16-7 to the light-hitting, last-place Padres. Diamondback's future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson probably won't get to 300 career wins this year (he has 293 as I write this), but his last six starts have resulted in a 5-1 record and sub 1.50 ERA with 32 Ks and just two walks. This from a guy who will turn 45 on September 10. He could get as many as 11 more starts - seven wins would make history and likely put the D-Backs in the postseason.

August 1 - Trade Talk - On my usual publication dates I was beating my head against the proverbial wall at the National Scrabble Championship. Four days and a 10-18 record later I'm back at the keyboard with another MLB update.

With a deadline of July 31, trades dominated baseball news the last few days, even ahead of some head-to-head series involving apparently playoff-bound teams. For the first time in history two players with 500-plus career homers were traded at the midseason deadline. For the umpteenth time, Manny Ramirez of the Red Sox had been lobbying for a trade, going so far as to display a hand-lettered "Manny for Favre, Straight Up" sign from the Sox dugout. This time, with just two months left on his seven-year contract, he got one. Ramirez landed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-way deal that also involved the Pirates. As a replacement for Ramirez, the Sox got outfielder Jason Bay from the Pirates. The Pirates picked up four prospects - two each from both the Dodgers and Red Sox. With the Dodgers, Ramirez is reunited with former Sox teammates Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Lowe. He went 2-4 in his first game as a Dodger, a typical 2-1 loss to Randy Johnson and the D-Backs (second consecutive loss to Arizona by that score).

The Cincinnati Reds moved Ken Griffey, Jr. and his 608 lifetime homers along to the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox, where he will play center field. Junior played right field for most of this stint with the Reds. Griffey joins aging sluggers Jim Thome and Paul Konerko on the White Sox. I don't quite get this deal, but it does give Chicago another fairly potent left-handed bat either in the lineup or off the bench. With a relatively old team, the White Sox have to play to win now. Junior's debut with Chicago was more satisfying than Manny's as he drove in two runs in a 4-2 win over KC.

Other prominent relocations saw the Yankees instigate three moves, trading for Pirate OF Xavier Nady and for future Hall of Fame catcher Pudge Rodriguez of the Tigers (to replace injured Jorge Posada), and picking up released Mariner 1B Richie Sexson. Most ominously, the Braves traded 1B Mark Teixiera to the Angels for 1B Casey Kotchmann and prospects. Even before this last trade, the Angels were playing like the best team in baseball. Teixiera will become a free agent after this season. It's clear that the Angels plan to make a strong run to keep him. Essentially out of the pennant race, the Braves decided to get a major leaguer in return, rather than the two draft picks they would have gotten when Teixiera left as a free agent after the season. I was surprised that the Angels would risk their team chemistry for a possible two-month player rental.

Going back to the divisions, the Phils reeled off a five-game winning streak to reestablish a slim one-game lead in NL East. The Mets, who made no deals at the deadline, are second. The Marlins, rumored to be pursuing Ramirez, but standing pat in the end, are third just 1-1/2 games back. The Phils' bats overcame some shoddy pitching against the Braves (Atlanta scored 8, 10 and 9 in the three games) to win two of three. Everything came together well in a three-game sweep of the lowly Nationals.

In NL Central, the Cubs made their opening argument for the division title, sweeping the heretofore hot second-place Brewers in a four-games series in Milwaukee. The sweep, enjoyed by many Cubs' fans who made the short trip north, pushed the Cubs' lead out to five games. As I write this the lead stands at four games over both the Brewers and Cardinals. Oft-injured OF Alfonso Soriano is back in the Cubs lineup and hitting well. Even having closer Kerry Wood on the DL hasn't slowed down Chicago in their quest for their first World Series in 63 years and their first World Championship in 100 years. As they move cloer I expect ESPN will track down Steve Bartman, who foiled the Cubs last chance for the Series in 2003 when he interfered with a foul pop in the Cubs' NLCS loss to the Florida Marlins.

Arizona led the NL West with a sub-.500 record for awhile, but an 8-2 stretch pulled the D-Backs to a semi-respectable 57-52 record and a three-game lead over the Dodgers. The futility of the division leaders probably kept Matt Holliday in Colorado as the Rockies trail Arizona by just eight games despite a 19-39 road record. As the trade deadline approached, there was lots of speculation that Holliday's big bat would be moving, but he remains a Rockie. SS Troy Tulowitzki rejoined the Rockie lineup from the DL. Colorado will probably need another streak like last year when they won 14 of 15 games to end the regular season to get back in the playoffs.

In AL East, the Red Sox look like less of a sure thing as the season goes on. They are three games behind divison-leading Tampa Bay and just 2-1/2 games ahead of the Yankees. The Rays continue to apply their formula of good pitching and defense and just enough hitting. For the Sox, Manny Ramirez may have been a distraction and unreliable (at least according to his teammates, who were interviewed by management on a one-on-one basis before the Dodger deal was made), but they may miss his formidable bat and knowledge of the Green Monster. Josh Beckett's ERA has crept above four, and the Sox start many games with at least three "out men" in their lineup - slumping catcher Jason Varitek, light-hitting OF Coco Crisp and rookie SS Jed Lowrie (though he is hitting .280). OF Jacoby Ellsbury has also seen his average slump below .260 with an OPS of just 677 (he does have 35 steals in 42 attempts). Starting pitcher Joba Chamberlain has settled nicely into his role as the Yankees number three starter. The rotation falls off a cliff after Pettite, Mussina and Chamberlain as the Yanks had to hire Sidney Ponson, persona non grata in most MLB clubhouses, to make some starts. Offensively, the Yanks miss DH/LF Hideki Matsui, but did add Xavier Nady to fill the gap. Alex Rodriguez is quietly having another fine season (.323 BA and 1007 OPS) and with a strong August/September that pushes the Yankees into the playoffs could still contend for another his fourth MVP award.

The White Sox lead the Twins by the slimmest possible margin of 1/2 game in AL Central. Slugging OF Carlos Quentin, who had a terrible 2007 (.214 BA 647 OPS) in 229 AB with Arizona, has to be in the MVP discussion with 28 HRs, 83 RBIs and a 934 OPS in 2008. Veteran OF running mate Jermaine Dye has quietly put together a similar season (25 HRs, 67 RBIs, 936 OPS). The Twins tightened this division by winning three of four in a midweek series with the Sox in Minnesota. I'll have more on the Twins next week, assuming they don't collapse.

The Angels (now a gaudy 69-40) and the Rangers offensive stars (Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler) are the only stories left in AL West, which the Halos lead by an imposing 12.5 games. Key for LA has been their now amazing 39-19 record on the road. They won all ways in the past week, 12-6 over the Red Sox using three three-run homers, and 1-0 over the Yankees, combining a 5-hitter by Ervin Santana with Francisco Rodriguez's 45th save. I suspect that K-Rod will be able to both break the MLB save record of 57 and rest for the playoffs.

In which dadlak investigates the disappearance of the Phillies recent four-and-a-half game lead and analyzes the anonymous brilliance of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

July 20 - He Talks About Angels -My first baseball post in almost a month comes in two parts. I'm about through with the All-Star Game; I'll add more if I think of anything else.

In the NL East, the Phillies somewhat comfortable 4.5 game lead is now gone, all gone. Though the Phils righted the ship somewhat after losing six straight, the Mets went on a 10-game winning streak. Now both teams have 53-46 records; the Marlins are biting near the surface at 52-46 after winning two of three from the Phils in Florida.

Good news for the Phils is the resurgent bat of slugger Ryan Howard, who now leads the NL in both HR and RBI. Despite the good power numbers, Howard was passed over for the All-Star team, a rare omission of the HR/RBI leader from the roster, but based on his .230 batting average and almost 130 strikeouts. Still, runs have been hard to come by for the Phils, and opponents' run have been sometimes hard to stop. After suffering with Adam Eaton give up eight earned runs in consecutive starts, the Phils reacted by trading for A's righthander Joe Blanton, only 5-12 this year, but coming off a 15-win season with a sub-4.00 ERA in 2007. Blanton will be thrown directly into the fire against the Mets on Tuesday.

In NL Central the Cubs continue to lead the Cards and Brewers, though not by much; the Brewers are just 3.5 games back in third. Milwaukee made two trades--the huge acquisition of Indians ace and reigning Cy Young winner CC Sabathia, and a lesser move to get 2B Ray Durham from the Giants. Sabathia moves into their rotation right behind Ben Sheets; Durham should get significant playing time as cant-miss prospect Rickie Weeks from Baton Rouge continues to struggle at the plate. Durham should also be a valuable PH. With pitchers batting eighth and a patchwork lineup, the Cards have stayed in the hunt and ahead of the vastly more talented Brewers. By season's end, I expect the Brewers to be the NL wild card and the Cards to get accolades for improving so much from last year's dismal record. The Brewers and Cards match up in tomorrow's Monday Night Baseball game on ESPN.

The NL West threatens to put a sub-.500 team in the playoffs. Hitting-poor Arizona leads the Dodgers by a game. The Rockies have moved up to third--just seven games out despite being 15 under .500. With the trade of Durham it appears that the Giants will rework their aging and mediocre everyday lineup rather than continue the illusion that they are contending. On an All-Star related thought, I was impressed by Dodger catcher Russell Martin. LA fans told me he was the real thing, but I hadn't seen him enough to choose him ahead of Cubs rookie Geovany Soto. Martin did it all for the NL All-Stars, catching, throwing and hitting. I can see why the Dodgers moved on from Paul LoDuca to this guy, who could lead them to the playoffs in this weak division.

In the American League, a fascinating three-way race is shaping up in the East. Just when it looked like Tampa Bay might shock the world by running away with the division, they hit a seven-game losing streak, being swept by the Indians, of all teams. With the Red Sox playing this evening, the Rays lead the division by a game over the Sox and by 4.5 over the Yankees, who can't be counted out despite their ongoing dramas, which include Joba Chamberlain's role, Jorge Posada's shoulder and Alex Rodriguez's marriage. For the Sox, David Ortiz is completing a rehab assignment in Portland. They'll be happy to see his big bat back in the lineup as they feature light-hitting Julio Lugo, Jason Varitek and Coco Crisp in the lineup on many nights.

The White Sox and Twins are locked in a tight battle for AL Central, with the Sox up by just half a fame. If these teams falter, the Tigers have recovered to .500, though they may not have enough pitching for a stronger move in the standings. At this point, all the Indians can move to salvage is fourth place ahead of the Royals, whom they trail by 1.5 games.

In AL West, the Angels have posted baseball's best record so far - 21 games above .500 and 8.5 wide games ahead of the second place Athletics, who've been busy trading their best pitchers (Rich Harden and Joe Blanton) for prospects. (I'm glad I didn't prepare a detailed analysis.) The hard-hitting Rangers (MVP candidates Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler) are close behind in third, but like the Tigers, may not have enough pitching to contend for the division or wild card. I'm watching the Angels against the Red Sox tonight--they seem to have a chemistry that transcends the performances of their individual players as non-entities like Maceo Izturis, Howie Kendrick and Casey Kotchmann (the hardest man to strike out in the AL) play on an everyday basis. I can't even tell you the name of their catcher (his name is Mathis). They used to have a Molina or two, but that information is probably out of date. Their pitchers and catchers have surrendered 28 straight successful stolen bases, attesting to the limited value of defense against the stolen base. Their most recognizable players are former MVP Vladimir Guerrero, who already deposited a TimWakefield high knuckler in the left field seats, and closer Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez, whose 38 saves puts him well on the way to breaking the single season record of 57, which has stood since 1990. The only barrier in his way would appear to be a desire to save K-Rod for the playoffs, given that the Angels have such a huge lead in AL West. Winning on the road is a big factor in the Angels success - their 31-18 road record is by far the best in baseball. Despite two HRs tonite, the Angels style is very much counter to baseball trends elsewhere--their players swing away rather than work the count, and Manager Mike Scioscia embraces one-run strategies like sacrifices and squeeze plays rather than waiting on the three-run homers. The Angels might even be the greatest unknown franchise in sports, as they've averaged over 40,000 per game attendance for the last five years. Since 2002, they've won the World Series and three other division titles, not including a likely one in 2008. As Wendy's says, that's way better than fast food, or at least any franchise but the Red Sox.

In which dadlak emerges from the road to talk about the recent Major League All-Star Game.

July 19 - Wow, a lot has happened since my last MLB post. Sorry for the delay. My family and I have been on a long car trip through the eastern US, going as far north as Kittery Point, ME and now landing in Orlando, FL. I've been posting a diary at and photos at which has left less time to post on MLB, even though I've kept up with what's going on. Here's an update.

MLB All-Star Game - The fans did a decent job choosing starters - better in the AL than NL, where a phalanx of Cubs' fans put both Kosuke Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano in the outfield lineup over much more deserving players like Pat Burrell, Ryan Ludwick and Matt Holliday. I was in Philly during the week when the last roster spot was being filled by fan vote. "Vote for Pat" was everywhere in Citizens Bank Park. I did my part by voting for Burrell ten times, but Pat fell short as the fans went for Milwaukee outfielder Corey Hart. This was a bit of a shame, not for Hart obviously - he's an up and coming player, but for the veteran Burrell, who's had the best first half of his career, with 23 HRs and lots of big late-game RBIs, and had a great second half in 2007 during the Phillies division run. Pat the Bat is also one of the league leaders in walks. NL Manager Clint Hurdle had a chance to add Burrell to the roster when Soriano was hurt, but went for Mets 3B David Wright, a selection that's hard to fault given that he could be an MVP candidate again by the end of the season.

In the AL, voters chose Tampa Bay rookie 3B Evan Longoria for the last roster spot. Longoria has had a fine season for the surprising Rays, but I'm convinced that some folks thought they were voting for TV star and Tony Parker spouse Eva Longoria, whose name differs by just one letter. I voted for White Sox OF Jermaine Dye, who's had a great offensive first half for the first place and otherwise offensively challenged Chicago White Sox.

Other omissions of note focused on pitchers. I was very surprised that Phillies ace Cole Hamels missed out, and somewhat surprised that perennial All-Star Johan Santana wasn't chosen. Santana's modest W/L record is more a result of poor run support than bad pitching. In the AL, Red Sox stars Josh Beckett and Daisuke (sic?) Matsuzaka rested over the break, the latter despite a 10-1 W/L record, as did surprising Yankee ace Mike Mussina, who amassed an 11-6 record and held together an otherwise shaky starting staff for the Yanks.

The game itself was one for the ages. Lasting a record-tying 15 innings, the game came within an inning of seeing position players J.D. Drew and David Wright on the mound. At 1:30 a.m. I was ready for the game to end, moreso if the NL took the lead, but I would have loved to see "This One Counts" get into such a pickle. Two pitchers who threw more than 100 pitches on Sunday, Brandon Webb of the D-Backs and Scott Kazmir of the Rays, both threw an inning. The NL's last pitcher, Phillies closer Brad Lidge, had warmed up several times getting ready to close out an NL win that never happened. AL Manager Terry Francona had committed to Rays management that he wouldn't overuse their young ace Kazmir. FOX broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver talked a lot about the prospect of a tie, an impossibility according to post-game comments by Commissioner Bud Selig. They never discussed the prospect of position players taking the mound. I doubt I'll live long enough to see anything close to this situation again, although it has happened now twice in just seven games.

Otherwise the game two highlight reels of exciting plays. The AL stole five bases. Their game-winning run came on a short fly ball to RF on which Justin Morneau scored inches ahead of Corey Hart's throw. Earlier in extra innings, NL outfielder Nate McLouth threw out Dioner Navarro by an inch or less to keep the game going. Marlins 2B Dan Uggla suffered a "three-peat" night - three errors and three strikeouts. In his other AB he hit into a double play. Ugg!

The prelude Home Run Derby may have been an omen of excitement to come as Rangers OF sensation Josh Hamilton hit 28 home runs in one round. Unlike the game the contest ended anticlimactically, as Hamilton lost by an exhausted 5-3 score to the Twins' Justin Morneau in the final round.

Back later with divisional updates. The short story is that the Phils still lead NL East by a game over the Mets, who recently had a 10-game win streak stopped by the Reds. Whew! The Phils play the Marlins in Florida today.

In which dadlak the Phillies fan is a little sad and bemoans baseball's split rules system (pictured is Ronnie Blomberg of the Yankees, baseball's first DH)

June 25 - DH or No DH, That Is The Question - Life is good but baseball is depressing as the Phillies lost their sixth straight game last night. Still, their standing among NL teams hasn't change much as the entire National League continues to struggle in interleague play. Over the last ten games for each team, NL teams are a cumulative 32 games below .500--an average record of 3.4 wins and 6.6 losses. Keep reading for my views on the DH rule, the most obvious difference between the two leagues.

NL East - The Phillies vaunted offense shut down this week, scoring just 12 runs in their six-game losing streak, which featured a sweep in Philly by the LAA Angels. Chase Utley broke an 0-24 slump, but no one is hitting very well, despite the team being healthy as a group for the first time all year. Fortunately for Phillies' fans the rest of the division has struggled as well. The Marlins pulled to within one game of first; the Mets and Braves are both within 4.5 games, despite two ugly losses by the Mets in New York to the lowly Mariners (5-2, a game featuring the first grand slam home run by an American League pitcher (Felix Hernandez) in about 40 years) and 11-0). Chipper Jones slipped below .400 at .395. Moving a batting average up from .395 is a tough proposition. I predict he'll not spend another day above .400 this season.

NL Central - This supposedly weak division now boasts the three best records in the NL by the Cubs, Cards and Brewers, who have won eight of their last ten to move nine games above .500. Even the Pirates have been respectable - 24-16 at home and coming off a 12-5 trouncing of the Yankees to salvage a little dignity for the NL.

NL West - The Diamondbacks continue to sink into the quicksand of this division, only to find that their rivals have sunk even deeper. Just two games over .500, the Snakes continue to lead the punchless Dodgers by 4 games. Having shown some signs of like behind the big bat of 1B Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres retreated to the basement with a 2-8 stretch.

AL East - The Red Sox and Rays continue their spirited battle for the top spot with Boston leading by a game this week. The Yankees and Orioles are both above .500. Toronto reacted to being last in this division by firing their manager, John Gibbons, and replacing him with their former manager, Cito Gaston. The Jays are an underachieving bunch. Erstwhile sluggers Scott Rolen and Alex Rios (who competed in last year's home run derby) have a total of nine home runs.

AL Central - A great week by the Twins pulled them within 1.5 games of the division-leading White Sox. The Tigers won enough to move just four games under .500 and six games out of the lead with more than half the season left. The Indians are the Mets of the AL, mysterious lurking in the second division.

AL West - The Angels sweep of the Phillies propelled them to a 48-30 record, best in the American League. Vladimir Guerrero slugged several home runs. The Athletics are eight games over .500, but there's no time this week for analysis of their success.

To DH or not to DH, that is the question - I tend to agree that nothing seriously broken about the game was fixed by the DH rule (although pitcher hitting, if not broken, is a pretty sad sight). Still, once an "experiment" has been in place for 35 years, it can no longer be considered experimental. Selig should get off his butt and push owners in one league or the other to standardize the rule. Which other major sport operates using two different sets of rules? None--when the NFL and AFL merged they developed a common set of rules. Same for the NBA and ABA. After 35 years of successful use (as evidenced by dominance of AL over NL in World Series, Interleague play and All-Star Game for most of this period, and by the likely election of a nearly fulltime DH to the Hall of Fame (most likely Frank Thomas) some time in the next 10 years), the DH "experiment" should be judged a success and adopted in both leagues. This all comes from a National League fan, but one who's not mesmerized by sacrifice bunts and the revered "double switch". AL managers have just as hard or harder job figuring out when to change pitchers, given that their decision isn't driven by when a pinch hitter is needed.

In which dadlak goes birdwatching, enjoys a satisfying Monday night, and notices a concentration of Manuels.

June 18 - Report from Birdland - I'm in the Baltimore area this week where I went to an exciting interleague game (my first other than the 1983 World Series and spring training games) between the Orioles and the Astros, won by the O's 6-5 on an 8th inning double by 3B Melvin Mora and a strong 9th inning by unknown closer George Sherrill (I'd never heard of him until last night, but he has 23 saves.) Neither of these 500-ish clubs figures much in the pennant races, so I'll move on to my regular weekly update.

In NL East, the division-leading Phillies had an odd week, sandwiching two monster wins, 20-2 over the Cards and 8-2 over the Red Sox (the latter on ESPN Monday Night Baseball being one of the most satisfying regular season games I've seen on television--Ryan Howard hit two HRs and a 3B; Pat Burrell also tripled for the first time since 2006), in among several close defeats. Probably the most galling was a 6-5 loss to the Cards that ended on a throwing error by Phillies' pitcher Tom Gordon. They still hold a 3-game lead over the Marlins. The big news in the division, however, was the Mets' firing of manager Willie Randolph. The move had been widely anticipated, but the Mets pulled it off with singular class (low) at 3 a.m. on a West Coast road trip after a Mets' win. Bench coach Jerry Manuel, former manager of the Chicago White Sox, takes over as interim manager. There are now two managers named Manuel (Phillies' Charlie is the other - I ate lunch in his hometown of Buena Vista, VA this week) just in NL East. (It's possible that the same situation existed in AL Central a few years ago when Charlie managed the Indians and Jerry the White Sox.) Chipper Jones average drifted down toward .400 as he suffered through his first mini-slump of the season. Adding injury to insult, he also got hit by his own batting practice ball, which ricocheted off the top of the batting cage and into his eye.

The Cardinals' strong play keeps the Cubs from running away with NL Central. The Cubs' 45-26 record is the best in baseball, but only 3-1/2 games better than the Cards. The loss of OF Alfonso Soriano to injury for awhile ought to hurt, but this team is going well enough to absorb it. I'm pushing Cards' OF Ryan Ludwick for the All-Star team. He's among the NL's top sluggers in his first year as a regular.

Arizona can't do much in NL West, but their pursuers are playing even worse. Their lackluster 37-34 record still leads the division by 4-1/2 games over the light-hitting Dodgers, who may struggle even more with ace pitcher Brad Penny on the DL.

In AL East, the Red Sox lead the Rays by two games (none in the "all-important" loss column) while the Yankees seem to be awakening from their slumber. A five-game winning streak has them five over .500. Their offense has been crushing the ball since Jorge Posada came off the DL. The spunky Orioles continue to play .500 ball with what appears to be a mediocre to anonymous lineup. (OF Nick Markakis looks like a good young player; it's hard to get excited by vets like Melvin Mora, Aubrey Huff and Kevin Millar).

The Tigers of all teams are making a move in AL Central. An 8-2 stretch has them five below .500 and 6-1/2 behind the White Sox. Dontrelle Willis won't be contributing much (little change there) as he was sent to Class A to work out his pitching problems. Some of the Tigers' relievers are getting healthy, which helps if you can score enough runs to get the lead.

The Athletics put together a 4-game winning streak to pull within 3 games of the AL West-leading Angels. Oakland will need to keep this up for another week before I'll put together an incisive look at this otherwise unknown team.

In which dadlak considers a singular game by the Phillies' "Flyin' Hawaiian" and travels (statistically) to LAA (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) land.

June 9 - Flyin' Hawaiian - As long as the Phillies stay in first, I'll open with the NL East. Not only did the Phils stay in first, they extended their lead to 3-1/2 games over Florida by winning all but one game during the week, including a three-game sweep of the Braves in Atlanta. Braves' players, coaches and fans had to be sick over Friday night's game, which Atlanta lost in 10 innings after 2B Kelly Johnson dropped a popup with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Phils tied the game on the error, added two in the top of the 10th and held on for the win when CF Shane Victorino threw out a Braves runner at the plate to end the game. Victorino had an amazing, perhaps one-of-a-kind game, hitting two triples, scoring the Phils' first run after the first, and driving in the tiebreaking run in the 10th and scoring the eventual game-winner on an Utley double with the second--all before he threw out the potential tying run by about an inch in the bottom of the 10th. Triples and game-ending plays at the plate rank among the most exciting plays in the game. In fact, Luke "The Loner" Gofannon, the hero of Philip Roth's comic baseball novel The Great American Novel tells his girlfriend, Angela Whittling Trust, that he loves her more than home runs, but that he doesn't love anything or anyone more than triples. The sweep of the Braves gave the Phils the best road record in the NL at 18-13.

In the rest of the division, Chipper Jones carries his .400 average further into the season than any player since Paul O'Neill in 1994 (he finished a long way under the mark), but both the Braves and the rest of the NL East teams have been under .500 while the Phils have won eight of ten.

The Cubs continue their strong play in NL Central, improving their record to 40-24, the best in the majors. The Cards remain 2-1/2 games back. The Brewers swept both the Astros and D-Backs to pull three games over .500. Ken Griffey, Jr. finally hit his 600th career home run today, becoming just the sixth player to reach that total (Bonds, Aaron, Ruth, Mays and Sosa being the others). Reds' pitcher Edinson Volquez continues to give the club hope for the future with an 9-2 record and 1.56 ERA. He held the hard-hitting Phillies to just two hits in the Phils' only loss of the week.

What was supposed to be the strongest division in the NL, with 2007 playoff qualifiers Colorado and Arizona, and near-qualifier San Diego, now looks like the worst, as the Diamondbacks reign NL West by 3-1/2 games despite being just four games over .500. With a 29-35 record, the Giants are slightly better than expected. The Padres, winners of seven out of 10, show some signs of coming to life. The Rockies at 24-39 and beset by injuries, have been mostly awful.

The big story in the American League was a bench-clearing brawl between the Red Sox and Rays. Coco Crisp charged the mound. Seven players will serve suspensions due to the ensuing melee. The fight notwithstanding, the Sox had a great week, sweeping the Rays in Boston and retaking first place in AL East. Manny Ramirez covered well for injured DH David Ortiz, hitting four more home runs.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen almost got fired for calling out his GM (begging for roster moves), but its hard to fire the skipper of a club with a 6-1/2 game lead, the White Sox current margin in AL Central. Their lead expanded quickly as the Sox matched a seven-game win streak with a five-game loss streak by the Twins.

In AL West, the Angels stretched their lead to 4-1/2 games over the A's. I promised more details on the LAA's, so here they are. Despite having familiar offensive performers such as Vladimir Guerrero, Garrett Anderson and Torii Hunter in their lineup, the team has just one regular (1B Casey Kotchman) with an OPS above .800. Clearly, this club is being carried by its pitching, which includes starters Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana with 9-2, 2.63 and 8-2, 3.01 records respectively. Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez converts almost every late lead to a win with 26 saves and a 2.17 ERA in 31 appearances. Somewhat ominously, Saunders has just 24 career wins, and Santana is pitching far ahead of 2007's 7-14, 5.76 record. Santana did pitch well in 2005 and 2006, and has 76 Ks vs 19 BBs.

In which dadlak enjoys a birthday gift, considers 100 years of Cub history, and almost confuses a rookie outfielder with a classic rock guitarist

June 2 - Meet the Bruces - The big news (at least for me) is in the National League this week, so I'll start there. The Phillies and Marlins played hot potato with the NL East lead this week in a three-game series in Philadelphia. The Phils had pulled within a half-game of the Marlins by sweeping the Rockies, and then took over first for a few hours with a 12-3 trouncing of the Fish on Friday night. The heavy duty run support and an 11-strikeout effort got Brett Myers his first win since April 17. The Marlins returned the favor and regained the lead on Saturday, beating Phillies' ace Cole Hamels 7-3. Sunday's game, like a gift televised by TBS on my birthday, was a tenser affair, as the Marlins built an early 5-1 lead on two homers by 1B Matt Jacobs, only to see the Phils claim their 14th come-from-behind win of the season 7-5. Jamie Moyer recovered from an ugly start to finish seven innings and earn the win. Chase Utley hit his major's leading 20th home run of the season. Geoff Jenkins came off the bench to hit a game-tying 2-run pinch homer, his first pinch hit of the season. Pat Burrell capped the offensive excitement with a clutch 2-run double in the Phils' seventh. Tom Gordon and Brad Lidge each pitched a clean inning. Homer man Jacobs batted with no one on in the ninth. The Marlins did their part in the field with a couple of costly errors, a hit batsman and a wild pitch. The win only secured a half-game lead for the Phils, but the team's overall play has been encouraging--strong offense with Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino back at the top of the lineup and Ryan Howard contributing; improved starting pitching as Adam Eaton and Brett Myers both earned wins with solid performances, and continued excellent work by a bullpen with the best ERA in the majors (who saw that coming?). Thanks to Charley Manuel and the guys for a great birthday present!

The Braves fell back to a tie for third with the Mets after being swept by the Reds. Atlanta hold the dubious honor of having the game's worst road record at 7-21. Perspective is everything, as the Mets mollified their fans with two wins in three games with the Dodgers. Costly ace Johan Santana -got his 100th career win. Santana pushed his season record to 7-3 with a 3.20 ERA, despite surrendering 12 homers in just 81 innings of work.

The Cubs had their way in NL Central and at 36-21 actually hold the majors' best record on June 1, their first such distinction in 100 years (not coincidentally, exactly as long as it's been since the franchise's last World Series win). The club has a couple of concerns--centerfield, where broken-down Jim Edmonds is getting a look and closing, which oft-injured Kerry Wood is doing, but for how long. The Cubs are a gaudy 26-8 in front of the Wrigley Field faithful. Close behind are the rival Cardinals, just 2-1/2 back. The Astros moved close to contention, but fell back with an ugly five-game losing streak in which their heretofore high-powered offense plated a total of five runs. They're now trying to hold off the resurgent Brewers and Reds for third. Reds' rookie right fielder Jay Bruce (almost said Jack Bruce there, guitarist for the old rock supergroup Cream) is tearing up the league, hitting .591 with 2 HRs and just one K in his first 22 major league ABs. One of the homers was a walk-off blast to beat the Braves 8-7 in a nationally-televised game. Bruce is 21 years old. His life is good. He's been playing CF ahead of regular CF Ryan Freel while Ken Griffey chases his 600th career HR (he's up to 599). Bruce's ascendance has fed speculation that the Reds will trade Griffey.

The Diamondbacks continue to have NL West to themselves, as the Giants, Padres and Rockies flounder well below .500 and the Dodgers struggle (winning just two of their last 10). Still, a 32-25 overall record and four wins in their last ten games take some of the luster off what appeared to be the best team in the NL for awhile.

In NL East, the Rays continue their run at the top. At 35-22, the second -best record in the game, they hold a one-game lead over the Red Sox and have won eight of their last ten games. They swept the AL Central-leading White Sox over the weekend, holding the Pale Hose to just four total runs. Ace Scott Kazmir pitched seven shutout innings on Saturday, bettering his record to 5-1 and lowering his ERA to 1.22. In Sunday's game, reserve OF Gabe Gross hit a walkoff homer.

The Rays don't have to look far over their shoulders to find the defending World Series champion Red Sox. Manny Ramirez ended the quest for his 500th career homer by hitting that milestone blast and another in consecutive games against the Orioles. The Yankees may have righted their ship, winning seven of 10, getting back to .500 and overtaking the Orioles for fourth.

In AL Central, the White Sox lead shrank to just a game over the Twins. Almost shockingly, the Indians dropped to six games under .500 and five games off the division lead. Rumors abound that Indians' ace CC Sabathia could be traded. Still, with relatively weak teams ahead of them, the Indians, and perhaps even the Tigers (six games back) have hope of winning the division.

The Angels stretched their AL West lead to 3.5 games over the A's. I will learn more about them for next week's report. Their team notes report that the Halos won four games in their last AB during a six-game homestand, two in the ninth and two in extra innings. Quite a treat for their fans, unless, like many Southern Californians, they completed their social obligations and left after the sixth inning. I should also mention the Rangers' sensational outfielder Josh Hamilton, who leads the AL in RBI and is near the top in most other offensive categories. Hamilton got a Sports Illustrated cover story this week. Along with his offensive prowess, Hamilton's claim to fame is being a recovering substance abuser, who has to pee in a jar every three days. Some observers call Hamilton "the best player (they've) ever seen." I might have to watch one of these Ranger games that come on Fox Sports Southwest every so often.

In which dadlak diagnoses the first-place Tampa Bay Rays and commiserates with Padres and Rockies' fans.

May 26 - Rays X-Rayed - In the AL East, Tampa Bay regained a 1/2 game lead with a crisp sweep of Baltimore while the Red Sox lost three straight to the A's in Oakland. I could be watching the Rays on Fox Sports tonight, but the family has taken over the TV for an indispensable episode of "Greek", which for its general lack of charms is less objectionable than "Gossip Girl." The Rays are 10 games above .500 for the first time in franchise history. Not great in either pitching or hitting (fifth in both runs scored and ERA) the Rays emulate the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks' success formula--win the close ones and lose the blowouts. Left fielder Carl Crawford has been a decent player with the club since coming up in 2002, specializing in triples (19 in 2004) and stolen bases (58 with just 9 caught stealing in 2006). With just 180 walks and 532 strikeouts in 3500 career AB's, Crawford's plate discipline could be better, particularly for a guy who hits at the top of the order. Twenty-three year-old CF B.J. Upton looks like the core of the franchise (828 OPS with 13 SB), at least until he can become a free agent. On the defensive side, two young starters, James Shields and Edwin Jackson, have pitched well to mediocre records (7-6 combined) while Andy Sonnastine has racked up a 6-2 record with a 5.09 ERA. Promising starter Scott Kazmir came off the DL to post a 4-1 record and 1.50 ERA in five starts. Reclamation project Troy Percival, who pitched only 65 innings over the last three seasons, and not at all in 2006, anchors the Rays' bullpen with 14 saves (in 16 chances) and a 2.61 ERA. With only 21 errors in the first 50 games, the Rays appear to have a good defensive club as well.

I see two possible paths for the Rays--walking the tightrope the rest of the way (ala the '07 D-Backs) to qualify for the postseason, probably as the AL wildcard; or falling back like the Mariners did after challenging the Angels in AL West last year. The cynic in me expects a collapse, based on the franchise's long history of losing, the club's youth, and the fragile health of their closer. The fan of the underdog in me hopes that the Rays can hold on for their first-ever postseason berth.

The White Sox continue to lead a surprisingly weak AL Central, in which the preseason favorite Indians and Tigers are a combined 44-56. The Twins offer the best competition so far at 25-25. In the AL West, it's still the Angels by a little over the A's, with the Mariners' disastrous season (18-33) scraping the bottom of the both leagues.

Paucity of hitting has become a leaguewide story, as barely ten AL players can post .300 batting averages. The Red Sox and pitching-poor Rangers are the only two teams averaging five runs per game in a season where the Tigers were expected to average six. (Detroit scored 19 in one game this week and followed with one the next.)

Over in the National League East, the Marlins are playing the Rays' role, leading by two games despite a low-budget payroll and low expectations. The Braves, led by Chipper Jones and his .417 batting average, are in second after sweeping four from the Mets, a streak that dropped the Mets to fourth and caused Mets's ownership to review their manager's status. Willie Randolph didn't help himself by commenting that criticism directed his way might be racially motivated. Ryan Howard is picking up his hitting for the Phillies (14 HRs, 34 RBIs despite a .204 average), who could use some better starting pitching to make a run for the top.

In NL Central, a good three-way race is shaping up among the Cubs, Cards and Astros, with the Cubs leading the Cards by a slim 1/2 game this week. The Cards have surprised offensively, while the Astros have gotten just enough pitching to back a very strong offense led by MVP candidate Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Miguel Tejada. One positive sign for the Astros is that Roy Oswalt will almost certainly pitch better the rest of the way than he has so far (5.63 ERA).

Arizona stays atop NL West with a 30-21 record, but the Dodgers act like the main opposition, just 3-1/2 games back. Randy Johnson missed a golden opportunity to advance toward 300 career wins, pitching 6 innings and giving up only one run while striking out 10 and walking nobody. The D-Backs offense could muster only a sac fly along the way, and the Braves won in the bottom of the ninth on a walkoff 2-run homer by Jeff Francouer. If Andruw Jones can pick up from his pitiful pace (0.167, 2 HR, 7 RBI), L.A. could press the D-Backs even harder. The Rockies and Padres continue their disastrous seasons, combining for a 39-63 record, punctuated tonight by Colorado taking a 20-5 pasting from the Phillies in Philadelphia. The Padres are scoring just 3.5 runs per game, while the Rockies are giving up more than 5.

In which dadlak reports on the first week of interleague play, highlighted by such traditional rivalries as the Marlins and Royals, the Braves and A's, and Tampa Bay and St. Louis (well at least Anheuser-Busch has large breweries in both towns)

May 19 - Interleague Stories - Trying to get back on schedule after delaying last week's report until Wednesday.

In the AL East, the Red Sox regained first place. Young pitcher Jon Lester even pitched a no-hitter against the Royals, and Manny "Being Manny" Ramirez high-fived a fan during a relay throw to complete a double play (the accompanying picture isn't of that catch--Manny made this remarkable grab in 2004 vs. the Yankees - I'll try to add the You Tube video of Manny's catch, high five and throw - no such luck, the video got taken off You Tube before I could copy it). The Yankees sunk even further into the sea floor after losing two games to the Mets, the second by a dispiriting 11-2 margin, despite starting their ace Chien-Ming Wang. Without right-handed slugger Alex Rodriguez (due back later this week) and switch-hitting catcher Jorge Posada (unknown return from shoulder injury), the Yankees are proving quite vulnerable to good left-handed pitchers, as the Mets' Oliver Perez demonstrated with a 3-hitter over 7 innings. Tampa Bay held first place for four consecutive days for the first time in franchise history, but dipped back into second behind Boston, thus relieving me of the burden of learning about the anonymous roster for at least another week. This could be good news for the Rays, as my 2007 effort to learn about the equally anonymous Seattle Mariners was followed by that team's almost immediate departure from the pennant race and dismal start to their new season.

In AL Central, the Indians surprised the baseball world by losing three straight interleague games to the cross-state Cincinnati Reds. The AL has dominated interleague play for the last several years, so seeing a 2007 playoff team from the AL swept by an NL also-ran gets your attention. The White Sox put together a little streak at the expense of the lowly San Francisco Giants to regain first place. If they go on to win the division, Guillen's tirade last week will become the psychological stuff of legends. I still like the Indians, though their offense must improve.

The Angels and Dodgers traded lopsided wins in their interleague series. LAA of A retains a slight lead over Oakland in AL West. The Texas Rangers pounded lumps on the Astros, 16-8 in one game. Still, the Rangers won't contend if they have to score nine runs per game to win, which they might.

In NL East, the Phillies got off to a great start in their 1993 World Series rematch with the Toronto Blue Jays, winning the first game 10-3 behind Jayson Werth's three home runs, his first such game ever, including Little League. Ageless Jamie Moyer, who was active in 1993 (though not with the Phils or Jays) got the win. The Jays (you don't have to call them Johnson, either) rallied to batter other Phillies' starters and push the Phils back into a second-place tie with the Mets behind the division leading Florida Marlins. (After being shutout by the Nationals tonite, the Phillies are in third).

In NL Central, the Cubs continue in first, ahead of the Cards and Astros. Alfonso Soriano finally got his bat working, hitting seven homers in a week to silence calls to drop him and his sub-.200 average deep into the Cubs' batting order. Cincinnati celebrated with sweep of Cleveland by dealing with the ongoing rumors that Ken Griffey, Jr. will be traded. Junior is taking dead aim at 600 career home runs, but remains stuck at 597.

Arizona stretched its lead in NL West to 5-1/2 games. Randy Johnson got his fourth win with seven innings of shutout ball against the toothless Detroit ("they're not-so-great!") Tigers.

In which dadlak considers the possibility of a Sunshine Series, the prospect of a .400 hitter and the Hall of Fame potential of Astros 1B Lance Berkman
May 14 - Sunshine Supermen - Take a picture of the standings--the Tampa Bay Rays (you can call us Rays, or you can call us Jays, but you doesn't have to call us Devil Rays, or Johnsons, for that matter) are in first place in the AL East after pairing a win over the Yankees with a Red Sox loss to Baltimore. This is no doubt the latest in any season that the hapless Tampa Bay franchise (never a season above .500) has been in first place. I'll try to learn something about their players before my next update, assuming they're still in the race.

In AL Central, the Indians nosed above .500 at 20-19 and thus trail the Twins by just a half-game. The White Sox are just two games back, but not doing well enough to prevent a diatribe by their volatile manager Ozzie Guillen, who ripped both the press and White Sox fans in his latest profanity-filled tirade. Whatever changes the Tigers are making aren't helping much as their 16-23 record trails AL Central, behind even the Royals. Ace Justin Verlander's 1-6 record hasn't helped. The Tigers have gone 2-8 since nosing within a game of .500 after an 0-8 start.

More of the same in AL West, as the Angels and Athletics are paired at the top, just 1/2 game apart. The Rangers have shown some sign of life, winning 7 of their last 10 to pull within four games. We probably don't need to follow this story too closely, although it may save manager Ron Washington's job for awhile. The Mariners prevent the Tigers' ignominy from extending to having the worst record in the AL.

In the National League East, the Florida Marlins continue their bargain-basement run toward what now looks like a Sunshine Series. With an identical 23-16 record as the Rays, the Marlins have caused ESPN to ask the question, which Florida team will fade from contention first. The Marlins did sign superstar SS Hanley Ramirez to a rich contract this week, keeping their best player around for another six years. The Phillies and Mets lurk behind the Fish, with surprising relief pitching and come-from-behind hitting propelling the Phils to whatever success they've had. Future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez is struggling with his recovery from injury--no telling when he'll be back to help the Mets. Braves 3B Chipper Jones has people talking about a .400 season as he carries a .415 average into mid-May. .370 maybe--.400 doubtful--the pressure would be enormous, and the standard is just too far above Jones' .309 career average. His previous best season's average was .337 last year.

In NL Central, the Cards slipped a bit and now trail the Cubs by one game. In nine starts, Cubs' ace Carlos Zambrano has put together a 6-1 record and 2.03 ERA. Surprising in this division are the Astros, who have won 8 of 10 to surge to 22-18, just 1-1/2 games back. Leading the 'Stros is veteran first baseman Lance Berkman, who's hitting over .600 in May and .392 for the season with a Bonds-like 1.260 OPS. At 32-years old, switch-hitting Berkman has quietly racked up a very good career, .303 average, .981 career OPS with 273 HRs. A few more quality seasons will put Lance in line for a spot in the Hall of Fame. 500 career homers isn't out of reach for a guy who's stayed relatively healthy throughout. A quick look at's page on Berkman indicates that he may not need too many more good seasons, having already amassed 80-90% of the offensive stats for a typical Hall of Famer. 500 homers would make him a shoo-in. Working against Berkman is his similarity to other non-Hall of Famers who tailed off quickly after strong starts to their careers - Dick Allen, Mo Vaughn, Albert Belle, and Jason Giambi.

A 4-6 stretch brought the Diamondbacks back closer to earth, but they still lead NL West by four games as the other clubs have slumped as well. The Rockies and Padres continue to disappoint, and now carry the two worst records in the National League, behind even the Nationals.

In which the retirement of Julio Franco causes Dadlak to revisit the career of Von Hayes.

May 4 - Phils' Comebacks Put Them On Top -The Red Sox reasserted control of AL East with three straight wins over Tampa Bay. The rest of the division is tightly bunched within 1-1/2 games. David Ortiz rediscovered his stroke, but sat out today with a knee problem.

The Twins are this week's AL Central leader as their 5-game winning streak coincided with a 5-game loss streak by the White Sox. The Royals sank to familiar territory below .500. The Tigers followed a sweep of the Yankees in New York by being swept by the Twins. Manager Jim Leyland is promising "drastic lineup changes" for the Tigers.

No big changes in AL West as Angels and Athletics continue in first and second. Both teams have excellent 10-5 records in road games.

In NL East, the Phils, Mets and Marlins are bunched within 1/2 game with the Phils on top after a couple of come-from-behind wins during the week. Reliever Brad Lidge remains unscored upon and got the win today as the Phillies came from behind to beat the Giants in the 9th on an unearned run. Phillie fans' favorite Chase Utley leads the majors with 13 home runs. Utley's level of play and $85 million, 7-year contract make it likely that he'll be in Philly for a long time. It is likely that Utley is already the greatest major leaguer ever whose last name starts with "U". Challengers would include '70s outfielder Del Unser, who had a 15-year career and played on the 1980 World Series champion Phillies, and Willie Upshaw, who hit 123 HRs in a 11-year AL career, mostly with the Blue Jays. Utley already has 110 HRs and .304 batting average (915 OPS) in a career that's just entering its sixth year.

The Cardinals continue to surprise in NL Central. They lead the Cubs by 1-1/2 after winning an ESPN game tonite by 5-3. The Astros have pulled up to .500, led by hot-hitting Lance Berkman.

In NL West, the Dodgers were the week's big story with an 8-game win streak that was broken today by the Rockies. Still, they trail the Diamondbacks by four games. Dodger shortstop Rafael Furcal is hitting about .380. Rockies' shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, last year's Rookie of the Year runnerup, is out until at least the All-Star break with a finger injury. Even with him, the Rockies have managed only a 10-19 record. It could be a long season for the defending NL champs.

This week's aging player note is the retirement announced by 49-year old Julio Franco. Franco was playing for the Quintano Roo Tigers of the Mexican League in his 27th professional season in the US, Japan, Korea, Mexico and his homeland Dominican Republic. To Phillies' fans, Franco is best known for being a part of the infamous 5-for-1 deal of 1982 in which the Phils traded Franco (then a young shortstop) and four others (Manny Trillo, Jay Baller, George Vukovich, and Jerry Willard) for Von "the next Ted Williams" (or as Chris Berman called him "Purple") Hayes. Tall and thin like Williams, Hayes finished his career in 1992 with a .267 batting average and 143 home runs, just 77 points and 378 home runs short of Williams. Like Williams, Hayes wore #9 and did have a good batting eye, drawing 121 walks in 1987, but he still finished about 1,300 walks shy of Williams' career total of 2,021. Von's major league career ended just 15 years before Franco's. According to, Hayes' career ended up being most similar to that of Twins' outfielder Matt Lawton, who retired after the 2006 season with a .267 average and 138 HRs.

May 2 - You Know My Name - Those first names are Kosuke Fukudome (from Japan) and Geovany Soto (from Puerto Rico). Without researching I can state with almost complete confidence that the Cubs are the first MLB team ever to have both these first names on their roster at the same time. Fukudome is featured in a Sports Illustrated cover article this week. The 31-year-old outfielder is something of a sensation in Chicago, despite hitting just one homer and driving in 10. His specialty is getting on base, something he's done to a .455 OBP, buttressed by 22 walks.

Soto (seen at right) made highlight shows with eight consecutive strikeouts (all his ABs in consecutive games--in one game he struck out five times against five different pitchers) followed just two games later by two 3-run homers. Overall, the rookie catcher has helped the Cubs build their 17-11 record with an OPS of 1.036 and 21 RBIs in 25 games, similar to the strong performance he showed in a late-season callup (1.100 OPS in 54 ABs) . He's just 25-years-old and makes a minimal salary.

April 28 - The Big Unit - My internet connection wasn't cooperating yesterday, but appears to be better now, so come back later today for this week's MLB update. The Phillies had a good road trip and have pulled above .500 with Chase Utley and Pat Burrell doing good impressions of Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski in their prime.

The internet strikes again. I typed for 15 minutes, then couldn't save and lost all the new stuff. Here goes again. I'll be sure to highlight and copy before I try to save.

The American League East standings underwent a turnaround as the Red Sox lost five straight while the Rays won six in a row. They are tied at the top with the less streaky Orioles at 3 games over .500.

The White Sox lead a surprisingly lackluster AL Central at 15-10. The Indians are second, 2-1/2 games back. The Tigers have their offense going well enough to win a few games, but are still in last.

The Angels and Athletics co-lead the AL West at 16-10. The A's brought back DH Frank Thomas, released last week by the Blue Jays. Overall it looks like AL teams need a round of interleague games to improve their records.

In my beloved National League, the Marlins continue atop the East, led by SS Hanley Ramirez and LF Josh Willingham. No one expected much from this bargain-basement team. Just 1-1/2 back are the expected contenders, the Mets and Phillies. Mets' fans aren't too happy about the team's record, having expected a big start with new staff ace Johan Santana (who has actually pitched pretty well). Phillies' fans are probably a little happier, as they're hanging in there in April (traditionally a very slow month) with both reigning MVP Jimmy Rollins and starting CF Shane "The Flyin' Hawaaian" Victorino on the DL, while Ryan Howard's average hovers around .180.

The Cubs and Cardinals pace the NL Central. Led by veteran stars Derrek Lee and Carlos Zambrano, and newcomers Fukudome and Soto (need to look up those first names), the Cubs have a 16-9 record. The Cards are right behind at 16-10. Starter Adam Wainwright and perennial MVP candidate Albert Pujols have the Cards playing far above their moribund 2007 level. Tony LaRussa has been batting his pitcher's 8th in the order, a tactic that must take a lot of explaining to his new 9th place hitters.

The best baseball in either league is being played by the Arizona Diamondbacks, who lead NL West by 6 games, and lead the expected favorite San Diego Padres by a whopping 8-1/2 games. Typical of the Padres struggles was a 1-0 loss to the D-Backs in which Brandon Webb outdueled 2007 Cy Young winner Jake Peavy. Webb's record advanced to Carltonesque 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA. Picking up where he left off in 2007 is starter Micah Owings, whose OPS so far is 865. Oh yeah, he's also 4-0 as a starting pitcher.

A third amazing performance by a Diamondback starter has come from 44-year-old future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. In three starts after an injury-plagued 2007, Johnson has 20 Ks in 16.2 IP, about his career strikeout rate. What a career this guy has had. He pitched his first full season at age 25, as a wild 6'10" oddity for the Seattle Mariners. In 1993, he figured it out, controlling his wildness and posting a 19-8 record and 3.24 ERA while striking out 308 and walking 99 in 255 innings. In his last full season with the Mariners (1997), Johnson was 20-4 with 2.28 ERA and 291 Ks and 77 BBs in 213 IP. From '93 to '97, Johnson's overall won/loss record was 75-20. More on Johnson later. Computer needed for stepson's social networking.

Back with more on Randy Johnson. After blowing through the National League to the tune of 10-1, 1.28 ERA and 116 Ks in 84 IP in a half-season of 1998 with the Houston Astros, Johnson moved over to the Diamondbacks and ran off four straight National League Cy Young Awards. Then at age 40 in 2004 he followed up with one his best seasons, despite poor run support that left him with a mediocre 16-14 record--290 Ks in 245 IP, allowing just 177 H and 44 BBs. The OPS of batters facing Johnson in 2004 was just 556, about 50 points below the career marks of Cesar Izturis and Augie Ojeda. This is for all the batters in the league for the entire year--amazing!

Johnson went to the Yankees for the 2005 and 2006 seasons. He won 17 games each season, but a 5.00 ERA in 2006 (his first above league-average ERA since 1989) and 60 HRs surrendered in two seasons convinced New York to cut ties with the then 42-year-old pitcher. His first season back with Arizona was effective (4-3, 3.81 ERA, 72 Ks in 57 IP), but cut short by injury.

For his career, Johnson has a 285-151 record (0.654) and 4636 Ks and 3077 hits allowed in 3872 IP. His postseason record, while not as spectacular at 19-16 with a 3.50 ERA, includes six wins in 2001, with three coming in the Diamondbacks win over the Yankees in the World Series, the third in a seventh-game relief appearance. For that Series, Johnson posted a 1.04 ERA, giving up just 9 hits and 3 walks in 17.1 IP while striking out 19.

Never very pretty, and a terrible hitter (.127 with 1 HR; striking out in almost half his plate appearances), Randy Johnson continues one of the most amazing pitching careers in Major League history. It would be great to see him get to 300 career wins and play in another World Series. The former might take two years; the latter maybe just one, given how Arizona has started the 2008 season.

April 20 - Jersey Jinx Averted in NYC - After another week the MLB standings look a little more normal. The Red Sox had a great week to take the AL East lead with a 12-7 record. Manny Ramirez hit three home runs against the Yankees, the first two of which encouraged Yankee reliever Kyle Farnsworth to throw behind his head, a move that earned Farnsworth an ejection and a 3-day suspension.

The Blue Jays released veteran DH Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas two days after benching him and one day after Thomas's rant about the lineup move. Thomas accused the Jays of benching him to avoid an 2009 option based on 376 plate appearances. Jays' management said they couldn't wait for Thomas's bat to warm up.

The big non-story of the week was discovery that a construction worker had buried a David Ortiz jersey in the foundation of new Yankee Stadium. The jersey was summarily dug up to avoid a possible "jersey jinx." ESPN provided round-the-clock coverage.

The White Sox took over from the Royals in AL Central. The Indians and Tigers remain 4th and 5th, but no further behind than they were last week. The Tigers' offense awakened as they scored 11 and 13 runs in wins over Minnesota and Cleveland.

In AL West, the Angels lead the Athletics by one game. Pitchers Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders both have 3-0 records.

In National League East, the Mets have won 8 of their last 10, including four in a row over nemesis Philadelphia to take the lead with a 10-6 record. Their pitchers gave up only 10 runs in their last five games. Chipper Jones of the Braves is having a Triple Crown April, leading the NL in batting average, homers and RBIs.

Surprisingly, the Cards continue to pace NL Central, with the Cubs close behind. Derrek Lee is off to a quick start after a lackluster 2007 season. Albert Pujols is hitting and drawing walks at an MVP pace. Free agent pitcher Kyle Lohse leads a so far effective Cardinal pitching staff.

The Arizona Diamondbacks threaten to run away with the NL West race. Their 13-4 record is four games better than the defending NL champion Colorado Rockies. The Padres are struggling at 8-10, as their offense hasn't yet clicked. They lost to the Rockies 2-1 in a 22-inning game.

Dragging bottom are the Nationals, Astros and Giants. We saw the Rockies thrash the Astros 11-5 just one day after the 22-inning game.

April 11 - Upside Down - The first two weeks of the season find the standings somewhat upside down as the American League division leaders are Baltimore (albeit by a slim 1/2 game over the Yankees), Kansas City and Oakland, none of whom came close to making the playoffs last year or were expected to this year. The Detroit Tigers, expected to field a dominating offense after their offseason acquisition of Miguel Cabrera, are last in AL Central at 2-8 after losing their first seven games, and just lost pitcher Dontrelle Willis, also acquired from Florida, to a knee injury. Cleveland, also expected to contend for AL Central honors, carries a 3-6 record after 2007 Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia was shelled for 12 hits and 9 runs in less than four innings of pitching against the Athletics.

In the National League the situation is similar as the division leaders are Florida, St. Louis and Arizona. At least there's one expected contender (the D-Backs) in there. The Marlins benefit from a thus-far MVP-style season from Hanley Ramirez. Albert Pujols is off to a good start with the Cards despite a sore elbow that would require Tommy John surgery if he were a pitcher. Not too unexpectedly, the Nationals, Astros and Giants trail the NL divisions.

On the individual front, both Livan Hernandez, who moved from the Diamondbacks to the Twins and Yankee ace Chien-Ming Wang are 3-0. Wang pitched the Yankees to a 4-1 win over the Red Sox last night with a nifty 2-hitter.

Opening Days - Major League "Preseason" Predictions

April 4 - Life and sports are moving so fast that my preseason MLB predictions are now offset in time by about a week. This may be related to Einstein's theory of relativity, as I'm working my way through Walter Isaacson's biography of the scientific world's "father of the universe". I'll try to post some preseason/early season observations about each division over the weekend.

National League

Division Winners - Mets, Brewers, Padres
Wild Card - Diamondbacks
NLCS - Mets vs. Padres
NL Champ - Mets
MVP - David Wright
Cy Young - Johan Santana

Braves, Phillies, Cubs and Rockies will also contend for wild card. Giants will be "for the ages" bad.

American League

Division Winners - Red Sox, Indians, Angels
Wild Card - Tigers
ALCS - Red Sox vs. Indians
AL Champions - Red Sox
MVP - David Ortiz
Cy Young - Josh Beckett

Yankees will be only other wild card contender. Orioles may be worse than Giants.

World Series - Mets vs. Red Sox - won by Red Sox in six games

April 2 - Check out this link for one of the best baseball articles you will ever read. It's Tom Friend's (ESPN The Magazine) story about Tony Gwynn Jr.'s hit off Padres closer Trevor Hoffman near the end of last season, a hit that helped keep the Padres out of the playoffs.

April 1 - They started the Major League Baseball season in March! In Japan! During March Madness! What's up with that??

More than a week ago, my wife and I went to lunch in a new pizza restaurant in downtown Baton Rouge. The place featured more flat screen TVs than pizza ovens. To wile away the time while our pizza baked, we (at least I) watched a strange event on ESPN--the labor-delayed start of an exhibition baseball game from Florida. The Boston Red Sox were scheduled for a noon (Central) start against the Toronto Blue Jays in their spring home of Winter Haven, FL. The Sox players refused to start the game because of recent developments regarding their upcoming season-opening games against the Oakland A's in Japan. According to the players, either MLB or the Red Sox or both had reneged on a promise to provide "appearance money" to the team's coaches for the trip, while the players would receive $40,000 each. At the same time, the Sox players were threatening not to board the plane to Japan, scheduled to leave in just two or three days.

It was a strange scene to envision--lawyers, club officials and player reps working their phones and Blackberrys so that a spring training game could begin. But begin it did, about an hour late, and without scheduled started Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was shelved to preserve him to start Opening Day in Tokyo. Terms weren't announced, but the coaches did reportedly get some money ($25,000 each?)

The Sox and A's played their regular season games in Japan, winning one each, while exhibition games continued both during and after in Florida and Arizona and across the country as the teams headed toward their Opening Day destinations. The Japan games have happened twice before, but more or less outside my attention, which might have happened once again if not for lunch in the pizza joint.

On Sunday, March 30 the regular season started yet again with a game between the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves at the Nationals' new eponymous Nationals Stadium (how clever--think of what the Defense Department could have come up with--Operation National Pastime; The Red Zone (after the Nats' colors--whoops that's already taken by football analysts)). President Bush threw out the first pitch to Nationals' manager Manny Acta. There was a story that Nationals' catcher Paul LoDuca was snubbed for some politically-motivated reason that I don't remember and which the White House denied. The Nationals won the one-game series with the Braves in fine style, 3-2 on a walk-off home run by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (great name, there). This game was on TV, but I missed it while watching a Netflix DVD of Dustin Hoffman in "Death of a Salesman" that had been around the house for nearly a month, gathering dust in the midst of March Madness. I did watch the "60 Minutes" report on one of my baseball idols, Bill James, a statistician who has changed the way many fans (and baseball management personnel, of whom he is now one) think about the game.

Most of the rest of the season got underway last night. Highlights and lowlights included a rainout in Yankee Stadium; the Braves and Pirates engaged in a battle of bullpen ineptitude won 12-11 by the Pirates in 12 innings (the Bucs blew a 9-4 lead in the 9th); the Nats extending their winning streak to two games with an 11-6 win over the Phils that featured Phillie closer Tom Gordon leaving the field with an ERA of 135.00 after surrendering 5 earned runs in 1/3 inning; Joe Torre and Johan Santana both enjoying successful debuts with their new clubs as Torre led the Dodgers to a 5-0 win over the toothless Giants, while Santana pitched the Mets past the Marlins 7-2 in Florida; the Royals nosing out the Tigers 5-4 in 11 innings; Cleveland outlasting the White Sox 10-8; Eric Gagne shortening his new career with the Brewers while getting the win by blowing a 3-0 lead in the 9th (the Brewers tacked on the winning run in the 10th); the Diamondbacks getting strong pitching from Brandon Webb to beat the Reds 4-2; and Jake Peavy shutting out the soon-to-be-hopeless Astros 4-0 in San Diego.

Tonite is April 1, and the rest of the teams (I think) will spring into action, spring weather permitting.

Oh yeah, neither Barry Bonds nor Roger Clemens has found employment as a player for the 2008 season. Bonds says he is ready for the right opportunity. It's still early for Clemens, whose recent seasons have begun no sooner than June 1. The Giants "de-Bonds-ed" PacBell Park. Given how bad their team is likely to be, they may "reBonds" it by midseason to deflect attention from what's happening on the field.