2013 Season Forecast – Boston Red Sox

Already out the gate with the best record in baseball for the month of April, let’s see if the start can hold water for an entire season.

Last Five Years:
2012:  69 – 93 (5th, AL East)
2011:  90 – 72 (3rd, Crashed AL East)
2010:  89 – 73 (3rd, AL East)
2009:  95 – 67 (2nd, AL East)
2008:  95 – 67 (2nd, AL East)

In general, the trend is working in the wrong direction, but if Bob McGrath were singing “Which One of These Things is Not Like the Other…”, we’d single out the Bobby Valentine era as the odd ball.  The Sox have averaged about 88 wins a season.  Without checking any of the rest of it, to guess that the Sox could bounce back to 75 – 80 wins wouldn’t have been an improbable prediction.

Runs Scored:  734 (5th in the AL)
Runs Allowed:  806 (13th in the AL – ouch)

Runs in Fenway Park: 842, tops in the AL
Runs on the road: 698, 9th in the AL

So, for 2012, Fenway – always a good hitter’s park, was even more so last season.

Season Recap:

Mixed previews….  Some people thought the Sox would remain competitive, having spent a lot of money to bring in veteran talent.  Many thought the hiring of Bobby Valentine might be an odd way to mix things up following the firing of Terry Francona.  I’ll say…

The team got off to a bland start, but a nice streak of six wins got the team back to .500 as the month of April ended.  Losing nine of ten, the Sox fell out of the race as Bobby Valentine was losing his clubhouse as fast as you can say “Kevin Youkilis wasn’t mentally ready to play.”  To the Sox credit, they battled back to 21 – 21 and a second hot streak got the Sox to 42 – 37 right as July began.

At that point, the Sox fell out of contention. They sputtered through August, first slowly, and then – starting on about 8/19 – they fell off the map.  The Sox would give up ten or more runs in a game every week or more – seven times in the last 38 games.  As August ended, the Sox traded away a bunch of people who were seen as under-producing (Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford) and turned it over to the next wave of Sox players.  The Astros played better in September.  The Sox won just 27 of their last 83 games; and went 10 – 31 in the last 41 games.

Transactions:

Some minor moves before the season – resigning Cody Ross and David Ortiz, and trading Marco Scutaro to Colorado for Clayton Mortensen.  I can’t prove it, but maybe the season went south when they signed pitcher Billy Buckner on 2/29.

Actually, the were proving an interest in Chicago.  The traded Michael Bowden to the Cubs for Marlon Byrd.  Ouch – he was released in June.  The signed Mark Prior to a minor league deal.  The picked up former ChiSox outfielder Scott Podsednik when outfielders were hard to find in May.  Kevin Youkilis was moved to the White Sox in June for Brent Lillibridge and Zach Stewart.  I don’t see that working out…  They even sold Justin Germano (to the Cubs) and released Bobby Jenks (former Sox closer) – and in a related moved, signed Andy LaRoche, whose dad was a pitcher for the Cubs…  Look – the Cubs stink, and while the White Sox were pretty good, cast offs aren’t going to help…

Here’s a move I don’t understand.  They traded away Podsednik to Arizona, then signed him when Arizona released Podsednik.

I mentioned the big sell off – the Sox traded Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and CASH to the Dodgers for James Loney, Ivan DeJesus, Allen Webster, and two guys who arrived in October – Rubby De La Rosa and Jerry Sands.

Starting Pitching:

Jon Lester had an off season, falling from ace to league average pitcher.  Clay Buchholz fell from surprise ace to league average.  Josh Beckett fell from famous pitcher who sometimes looks dominating to a shade below league average (and with a 5 – 11 record, looks worse than he really was).  Daisuke Matsuzaka went 1 – 7 with an ERA north of 8.00, Daniel Bard proved he was a reliever in 10 starts, Aaron Cook was given 18 starts to prove he was done (5.65 ERA).  Felix Doubront looked tolerable in 29 starts – I think he can build on that.

Going forward, the Red Sox could make immediate gains if Lester and Buchholz just got back half of what they lost in 2012 – that’s 30 saved runs.  Getting a fourth starter that could be CLOSE to league average to replace Dice-K and Cook could save 30 runs.  Replacing Josh Beckett with Ryan Dempster looks to be a wash – Dempster was awesome in Chicago, but rocked in Texas.  Boston just feels more like his kind of place – I think he can be at least league average in 30 starts, which is still better than 21 Josh Beckett starts and 10 bad Daniel Bard starts…  If Doubront doesn’t fall back and if John Lackey ever gets healthy, who knows.  I like the rotation to be 50 – 60 runs better than last year.

Bullpen:

Losing Andrew Bailey, who was brutal, and having to use Alfredo Aceves as a closer was bad.  I know Aceves got 25 saves, but the two combined to cost the Sox six unnecessary runs.  The rest of the pen was a nice patch work of guys like Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, Clayton Mortensen, Vincente Padilla, and Matt Albers.  Sure, they had a few sore thumbs (I’m looking at you, Mark Melancon and Zach Stewart), but every bullpen has one or two.

This year, the Sox signed Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, have Andrew Bailey back, and added Koji Uehara to Tunizawa, Miller, and Mortensen.  This could be a bullpen that is ten runs better than last year.

Catching:

I’m thinking that the Sox missed their captain, the retired Jason Varitek.  Boston gave the job to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, with Kelly Shoppach (now gone) and Ryan Lavarnway as backups.  People could run on both Salty and Lavarnway (108 stolen, 21 caught), and as a unit, the team was below average in winning percentage, team ERA, and tended to be error prone.  The only category in which Boston catchers were above average was mobility (assists not tied to caught stealing), and that’s not saying a whole lot.

Shoppach was their best defensive catcher, had the best batting rates (5 runs per 27 outs, the only above average offensive player) – so he’s gone.  I know – Saltalamacchia hit 25 homers, but he batted .222 with a sub .300 OBP.  He hit like Jason Varitek did at the end, but with no defensive positives.  Salty is back, but the Sox did bring in David Ross from Atlanta, who is a fine catcher and should get at least 500 innings of work.

Infield:

Adrian Gonzalez was underperforming, maybe, but he was still hitting .300 with 37 doubles and 86 RBI with a month to go.  And, he was saving them 35 runs with his glove in five months – gold glove play.  James Loney can’t hope to replace that – so the Sox let him leave and signed Mike Napoli to play there.  Napoli is an underrated catcher – I’d let him do that from time to time and try to find a better hitter (Daniel Nava?) to play first.  Dustin Pedroia was productive but his range is falling quickly.  Never GREAT before, he cost the team more than 15 runs because he makes nearly nine fewer plays per 870 balls in play than the average second sacker.  Mike Aviles was a below average hitter – first time in a full season he did that – but ordinary at short.   The Sox will try Stephen Drew there in 2013 – and I think he’s going to be a weak fielder and I fear he may not be that great a hitter anymore.  He has the tools to be, but it’s been a while.  If he hits his 150 game norms, he’s not going to be appreciably better than Mike Aviles overall.  A few more runs on the board for both teams…  The one place Boston may improve is at third, where Will Middlebrooks will get full time duty.  Youkilis struggled last season, so if Middlebrooks can match his half season stats across a full season, that will help.  He is NOT in Youkilis’s league as a fielder, but Youk was fading there last year.

As a whole, this group will likely be 50 runs worse defensively, but break even offensively.

Outfield:

A team that had so many injuries, nine guys played in left, eleven guys played in center, and eleven more played in right.  With Crawford gone, the Sox may try Jackie Bradley (he already got sent back) in left, or Daniel Nava.  They need a full (and productive) season from centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury – who is, at best, a league average fielder but CAN be a crazy good hitter.  Cody Ross is gone; Shane Victorino, who is as productive a hitter and a slightly better fielder will play right.  If Nava can step forward and get on base, or at least be a solid platoon with Jonny Gomes, and Ellsbury can get healthy, there is a chance for 40 – 50 extra runs on the board with little change in defensive value.

DH/Bench:

David Ortiz should be around for 25 more games than the 90 games he played last year, but at his age, he might decline some.  Nava can play all over, Victorino can spell Ellsbury if needed, and Pedro Ciriaco will be the utility infielder.  Not a bad bunch.

On the Farm!

At Pawtucket, the only prospect from 2012 may have been catcher Ryan Lavernway, who hit .295 and played with the big club.  He’s at least a good backup.  The best pitcher was probably Justin Germano, but he is 29 and now a Cub.  He’s no prospect.

2010 first round pick Bryce Brentz hit .296 at Portland (AA), showing power, and might make the big club this year.  Jackie Bradley didn’t look overmatched in his 61 games there – he was a 2011 first rounder.  Stolmy Pimentel didn’t look as strong as he had previously.  The reliever with promise may be Aaron Kurcz, who fanned 72 in 50 innings, but is wild.  2008 first round pick Joshua Fields is getting there – better control and 59 Ks in his 44 innings.  Unfortunately, he’s an Astro right now…

Look out for 3B Michael Almanzar, who hit .300 with power at A+ Salem.  He and SS Xander Bogaerts, who is just 20, will follow in the shoes of Jackie Bradley one day.  1B Travis Shaw had Adrian Gonzalez numbers there – but I don’t think that’s what he will be when he gets to the majors…  Keith Couch is looking close to being a prospect after going 11 – 9 with good control in 145.2 innings.  The better prospect might be Matt Barnes, the 2011 top pick, who strikes people out and is building a solid minor league resume very quickly.

Forecast:

Well, when I add up the offensive gains and the defensive gains (pitching) and losses (infield gloves), I see the Sox making strides toward .500.  I see them scoring about 65 more runs, and maybe saving five to ten runs over last year.  That puts them around 800 runs scored and allowed – or 81 wins.  I’m not convinced the hot start is going to stay for the year, but it will be a better season for Sox fans than 2012.

When is a suspension not a suspension – and injuries by the dozen…

Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels plunked Washington Nationals rookie outfielder Bryce Harper to “welcome him to the big leagues.”  Major League Baseball decided to give Hamels a five game suspension – which really is a slap on the wrist for a guy who usually only plays once every five days anyway.  [SI]

Bryce Harper will move from left field to right field for the next three months…  Jayson Werth‘s attempt to snare a sinking liner resulted in Werth’s breaking his left wrist.  Surgery means a three month healing and recovery period.  [SI]

In the span of three pitches, the Angels lost two relievers…  Scott Downs left with a bruise in the back of his knee, the victim of a liner back up the middle.  His replacement, Latroy Hawkins took a liner that broke his pinkie finger and could be out between three and six weeks.

Another team dealing with a slew of injuries is the Milwaukee Brewers.  Last week, Mat Gamel tore his ACL chasing a foul pop up.  Centerfielder Carlos Gomez strained a hammy, and now Alex Gonzalez, starting shortsop, heads to the DL with a season ending ACL injury suffered when sliding into second base.  [SI]

Javy Guerra‘s blown save against the Cubs, the third of the season, cost him his closer gig.  Manager Don Mattingly handed the gig to Kenley Jansen.  [ESPN]

Hurry Back!

  • Justin Morneau, Twins first baseman, is on the DL with an injury to his left wrist.
  • Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin went on the DL with shoulder inflammation.
  • The Mets placed infielder Ruben Tejada on the 15 day DL with a strained quad.
  • Aaron Cook heads to the DL with a lacerated knee.  Boston replaced him with pitcher Andrew Miller.
  • Brewers centerfielder Carlos Gomez heads to the DL with a strained left hamstring.
  • It’s a bad time to be a closer – the Padres placed Huston Street on the DL with a lat strain.

Welcome Back!

  • The Tigers activated Doug Fister from the DL.
  • The Giants welcome back Aubrey Huff from the Dl – anxiety treatments.
  • The Reds activated Miguel Cairo from the DL, which cost Willie Harris a major league gig.
  • The Mets welcomed back reliever D. J. Carrasco.

Good Riddance!

Guillermo Mota heads to the restricted list following a second positive drug test for performance enhancing drugs.  Mota’s agent said that Mota tested positive for Clenbuterol, which he described as having been a trace amount found in a children’s cough medicine, and he plans to appeal the decision.  What are they putting in Vicks 44 these days?  [SI]

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cards, cake, or remembrances include:

(1896) Tom Zachary – he served up Babe’s 60th homer in 1927.
(1929) Dick Williams – Hall of Fame manager.
(1970) Brook Fordyce – one time Mets prospect
(1982) Conor Jackson
(1984) James Loney

I haven’t been daily in my writings…  Here’s a few birthdays we missed.

May 6

(1940) Bill Hands – great fastball and member of the 1969 Cubs.
(1953) Larry Anderson – former Astros and Phillies pitcher
(1968) Phil Clark – one time Padres slugger Phil Clark
(1990) Jose Altuve – Baseball Prospectus Podcast favorite…

May 5

(1857) Lee Richmond – he threw baseball’s first perfect game.
(1871) Jimmy Bannon (see below)
(1884) Chief Bender – Rube’s teammate on the early 1900 Philadelphia As
(1935) Jose Pagan
(1941) Tommy Helms – Reds infielder traded to Houston for Joe Morgan
(1947) Larry Hisle
(1956) Ron Oester
(1967) Charles Nagy
(1971) Mike Redmond – one of my favorite backup catchers…

Jimmy Bannon

I never got done, which kept me from making a full blown post on the topic…  Jimmy Bannon was one of about ten Bannon brothers who all played baseball between, say, 1890 and 1910.  Jimmy and Tommy made it to the big leagues, at least four others played in the minors, and the others were on some very good semi-pro teams.

Jimmy went to Holy Cross and in 1893 was signed to be the right fielder for the St. Louis Browns where he hit .336.  However, for some reason he fell on the wrong side of owner Chris Von der Ahe.  Forced into being the starting pitcher during a double header, he gave up double-digit runs in four innings and along the way injured his leg.  A few days later, Von der Ahe released him.

Bannon signed with the Boston Braves, where he became the third outfielder alongside the heavenly twins – Hugh Duffy and Tommy McCarthy.  Bannon cleared .300 in back to back seasons, even hitting .350 in 1895.  Though rather popular, he got involved between Duffy and Billy Nash – Duffy wanted Nash’s captaincy.  When Bannon slumped to .251 in 1896, he was released into a life of an eastern seaboard minor leaguer.

Bannon was still a very good player and eventually a player-manager.  When his career was over, he ran hotels and restaurants and even served a couple of years in the New Hampshire state legislature.  In the 1920s and 1930s, he was an active leader in the minors, even selected as president at one point.

I would think his life in baseball was pretty cool – so I’ll try to lock down a better biography later.  I do have one piece of trivia –  Bannon was the first player to hit grand slams in consecutive days in 1894.

Opening Day: The Best Day of the Year

Opening Day in Major League Baseball is my favorite day of the year – and this one had plenty of highlights that suggest that 2011 could be as exciting a season as can be imagined.

  • Red catcher Ramon Hernandez hits a three-run, game-winning homer to beat the Milwaukee Brewers – an at bat that happened, in part, because Brandon Phillips emulated Chad Ochocinco to avoid a Casey McGehee tag two batters earlier.   (McGehee claimed that Phillips left the baseline, but replays suggest the juke was legit.)
  • Jason Heyward launched a season starting homer for the second straight season.
  • Cameron Maybin, newly acquired centerfielder for the Padres, launched a game-tying two-out homer in the ninth, allowing San Diego to trip up the Cardinals in extra-innings.  Albert Pujols didn’t help the cause, becoming the first player to ground into three double plays on Opening Day.
  • The night ended with a remarkable pitcher’s duel between two young guns.  Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw outdueled San Francisco Giant Tim Lincecum to give Don Mattingly his first managerial victory.

If you didn’t enjoy those games, then you just don’t like Baseball

Transaction Wire:

Nearly everything over the last day or two had to do with decisions on whether or not to put some player on the DL for various knicks, pulls, and injuries.  Those getting to miss the fun for at least a week or so include Jason Bay, Brandon Webb (still), J.P. Howell, Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, Cody Ross, Johan Santana, Aaron Cook, Scott Olsen, Brian Wilson, Clint Barmes, Corey Patterson, Brandon Morrow, Frank Francisco, Homer Bailey, Brad Lidge, Chase Utley, Dayan Viciedo, Domonic Brown, David Aardsma, Franklin Gutierrez, Jake Peavy, Johnny Cueto, John Baker, Geoff Blum, Zach Duke, Jason Kendall, Francisco Cervelli, and Andrew Bailey.  (There are plenty of others, and if you have a fantasy baseball team, you are aware of many of these guys…

A new DL move, Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand was listed for today – Rowand has a fractured cheekbone.

Ronny Paulino has a few days left on his steroids suspension, so the Mets placed him on the restricted list.

A couple of days ago, the Phillies had signed Luis Castillo as an insurance policy while Chase Utley allows his troublesome left knee to heal.  That didn’t work out (Castillo is relatively immobile these days and his bat hasn’t been healthy for at least four months now), so the Phillies signed Ronnie Belliard.  Belliard, who turns 36 next Thursday, had an unimpressive season as a utiltiy infielder and pinch hitter for the Dodgers in 2010 (2 – 19 -.216) and a weak spring for the Yankees (.136 in 22 at bats), so this may be his last couple of months in the big leagues unless he can get a few clutch hits.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, seeing that shortstop Stephen Drew wasn’t 100% for opening day, signed former Mariner glove man Josh Wilson.  Wilson isn’t a bad guy to have around, but don’t count on him to hit like Drew can.

On the MLB Drama Network

Not sure if you are following the Barry Bonds trial, but we now have a handful of players who all admitted that they used steroids provided by Greg Anderson, Bonds’ personal trainer who is sitting in jail for his unwillingness to discuss the number of needles he put in Bond’s belly and butt.  Some of them admitted that they did because of the success Bonds was having since hiring Anderson to build up his physique.  A former personal shopper for Bonds says she saw Anderson give Bonds a shot in his belly button (ouch!), something Bonds told her was “…a little something for the road.”

Not that I am plugging my book (but I am):

Today is the day that Rube Waddell died, the result of a long fight against Tuberculosis, a major killer of men and women 100 years ago.  Waddell died in 1914 while convalescing in a San Antonio nursing home.  At the time of his death, he weighed at least 60 pounds less than his playing weight, 210.

Happy Birthday!

Among those celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances are…

Ron Perranoski (1936) – Dodger pitcher and pitching coach
Phil Niekro (1939) – greatest knuckleball pitcher ever
Rusty Staub (1944) – Le Grande Orange, and one of my favorite players as a kid
Willie Montanez (1948)
Frank Castillo (1969)
Matt Herges (1970)
Will Rhymes (1983)
John Axford (1983) – who gave up that homer to Ramon Hernandez yesterday (ouch)
Daniel Murphy (1985)

Congrats to Yankees and Cards; Tigers and Twins Face Off for AL Central

The Yankees will get a week to rest a player or two, organize the playoff rotation, and work off a little Champaign Hangover…  After sweeping the Red Sox, the Yankees won the AL East and won their 100th game of the season this weekend.

And, in the NL Central, the Cardinals disposed of the Rockies to clinch the NL Central.  With a solid rotation and revamped lineup, the Cardinals are my choice to represent the NL in the World Series right now.

You have two head-to-head series opening today that will decide playoff chases.  In the AL Central, the Tigers host the twins in a four game series to determine the division crown.  A month ago, it looked like the Twins might not have enough in the tank, but the Tigers struggled to play .500 ball the last three weeks and then got swept by Chicago, while the Twins got hot enough to make it interesting.  If the Twins can take three of four, it’ll make for a very exciting week.

In the AL West, the Angels can finish off a game Texas Rangers squad that is limping in on its last legs.  Yesterday, Texas collapsed, giving up seven runs in the last two innings to lose to Tampa, a crushing late season loss.

Meanwhile, how about this late run by Atlanta, closing to just 2.5 games behind Colorado in the NL Wild Card chase?  They haven’t had the huge winning streak the Rockies had just two years ago, but they have been solid for most of September and have a complete pitching staff and healthy lineup right now.

Boston’s Jon Lester was struck by a liner above the knee in Friday’s start, forcing him to leave the game, but x-rays were negative.  Look for Lester to be ready for the playoffs once the swelling around the bruise goes away.

Jarrod Washburn has begun a rehab plan hoping to rejoin the Tigers later in the postseason.  Washburn’s troublesome knee keeps him out of the lineup.

It’s Not Over! Omar Vizquel wants to play one more year, and Texas is interested in bringing back the veteran.  Vizquel may be 42, but he was solid as a backup infielder and he still contributes at three positions and a little with the bat.  [FoxSports]

Is it Over? Cito Gaston said that B.J. Ryan’s stuff didn’t excite him, said Ryan barely got by in 2008, and isn’t surprised that Ryan’s career seems to be done.  Ryan was released by Toronto this year, signed a minor league deal with the Cubs, but asked for his release with declining velocity.  [SI]

Hurry Back! Roy Oswalt is officially on the DL with a strained back.

Welcome Back! Aaron Cook rejoined the Rockies.

Yankees Clinch Playoff Spot; Greinke Continues to Amaze

Most of the news centered on those events that earn quick hits as the season closes.

1) The Yankees are in the playoffs – a win over the Angels guarantees at least a Wild Card spot, but unless they really fold for ten days, the truth is that they will likely have the best record in all of baseball and 100 wins when the season is done.

2) Zack Greinke smoked the Red Sox yesterday for win #15.  If he pitched like this for a contender, he’d likely have 20 wins already.  He’s been the best pitcher in the AL all season long.

3) Mark Reynolds topped his single season strikeout record, fanning for the 206th time last night.  You still want him on your fantasy roster, but WOW – that’s a lot of strikeouts.

Other news…

White Sox closer Bobby Jenks pulled his calf muscle during warmups (reinjuring something a few games back in Seattle) and is out for the rest of the season.  Jenks hinted that he might not pitch in Chicago next year, too…  [ESPN]

Aaron Cook will pitch for the Rockies, starting against the Cardinals – and just in time for a playoff run.  Cook will be limited to 70 pitches in Friday’s start.  [FoxSports]

Padre outfielder Edgar Gonzalez partially separated his shoulder diving for a Clint Barmes flyball (turned into an inside-the-park homer), and is day-to-day.  [MLB]

The Braves and catcher Brian McCann got some good news when x-rays showed that McCann’s left hand wasn’t broken.  McCann took a foul tip off the heel of his left hand and was forced to leave Tuesday night’s game.  [MLB]

Welcome Back! Willy Taveras returns to Cincinnati after a short DL stint.

Baseball Notes on NFL’s Opening Sunday…

It was a quiet weekend in baseball – overshadowed on Saturday by a handful of interesting football games (Michigan vs. Notre Dame and USC vs. Ohio State) and a solid compliment of professional football games finishing with Chicago at Green Bay on Sunday night.  In fact, it was the type of weekend that doesn’t bode well for baseball getting many headlines between now and the playoffs…

There’s really only one division race (NL West), and really only two teams competing for the wild cards in each league (Colorado and either SF or Florida, each with holes, or Boston and Texas).  While a couple of career or season milestones are nice for a day or two (Jeter passing Gehrig, for example), there just won’t be enough day-to-day elements to carry MLB for three more weeks.

Of course, I’ll still be watching baseball, preparing for the fantasy playoffs and wondering why it took 50 years of The Tonight Show’s success to decide to try it an hour earlier…  And, I spent a few hours with a spreadsheet and the 1930 NL pitching and fielding data sheets.  I’ll write about that tomorrow, I guess.

So what’s news?

Tim Lincecum is about ready to test his tweaked lower back.  He’ll open for the Giants against the Rockies Monday night in a last gasp shot at closing the gap.  The Giants sweep, and we’ll have something to watch for the next several days.  [ESPN]

Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton’s back received two more shots, and the hope is that Hamilton will be able to play next weekend.  The Rangers are chasing Boston and the Angels and need all the available bodies on hand as possible.  [SI]

Meanwhile, teammate Kevin Millwood is doing extra work with his mechanics trying to get out of a slump.  He MAY miss a turn, as the Rangers open a series against the Angels (another good series to watch if you are a baseball fan).  [MLB]

Colorado may get two pitchers back soon.  Both Aaron Cook and Jose Contreras made bullpen sessions, and are a simulated game or so away from making a major league appearance. Cook has a sore shoulder, while Contreras has a quad injury – he can throw, but not field.  [MLB]

Finally, John Smoltz will miss a turn to rest a sore shoulder.  Smoltz expects to miss only the one start, then make his start against Chicago next week.  He added that if the playoffs were going on, he’d have figured out a way not to miss his turn.  [FoxSports]

Welcome Back! Sort of…  John Maine made a start Sunday for the Mets – but the Phillies pounded him around a piece…

Your Baseball Weekend Update…

John Smoltz’s career has life after beating San Diego Sunday.  Smoltz threw five shutout innings and fanned nine batters.  Maybe the AL is tougher than the NL – but it certainly helps to face a punchless San Diego team, too.  [MLB/SI]

For the second time in history (according to STATS, Inc, that’s who), Eric Bruntlett ended a game by himself – recording an unassisted triple play to help Brad Lidge avoid another blown save and give Pedro Martinez a win over his former team, the Mets.  The score stood 9 – 7 after a run scoring single by Daniel Murphy.  Murphy and Luis Castillo, who was on second, attempted a double steal when Jeff Francouer launched a Lidge pitch back up the middle where Bruntlett was moving…  Bruntlett caught the liner, stepped on second, and tagged Murphy.  [MLB/SI]

Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez will be more careful next time – he stabbed himself in the left hand with a falling steak knife, requiring a single stitch but keeping him out of the lineup for the next couple of days.  [SI]

Meanwhile, the Rockies have come to terms with free agent Jason Giambi, most recently released by the Oakland As.  He’d be a nice bench option, that’s for certain.  [ESPN]

Moving to the Rockies rotation, the pitching staff took a big hit when Aaron Cook hit the DL with a sore shoulder.  Cook had to leave Friday’s start with a strain and an MRI is scheduled for Monday.  If the Rockies have to use Adam Eaton down the stretch, pencil in San Francisco or the Dodgers as the Wild Card team in the NL.   Josh Fogg is the other option (not appreciably better), and Matt Herges got the call from AAA Colorado Springs to join the roster. [FoxSports]

Reds starter Aaron Harang’s season came to an end thanks to emergency appendectomy surgery.  He’ll see restricted activity for about three weeks before he can do anything physical in nature.  According to SI, Harang is the ninth player to head to the DL for Cincinnati, and the seventh to require surgery – which is an amazing number, really.  Fortunately, Scott Rolen came off the DL – but he can’t pitch.  [SI]

Boston may have claimed Billy Wagner off the waiver wire (the Mets haven’t decided whether to allow the claim, work a deal, or pull him back), but apparently the bullpen wouldn’t have done it.  Both Jonathon Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen weren’t excited about it when asked by WEEI radio earlier this weekend.  [ESPN]

FoxSports reported that David Eckstein will remain in San Diego next year and signed a contract extension for 2010…  He’s not really a championship level producer anymore, but he’s an extra coach for a young team and Eckstein does have a history of being on winning teams.  [FoxSports]

Here’s a position that won’t get much of an argument… FoxSports Jon Paul Morosi makes his case that Ichiro Suzuki will one day enter the Hall of Fame.   His take on it is mostly “Well, he has more hits than anybody, and Ken Griffey says he’s a Hall of Famer…”  Let’s look at it more subjectively.  Assuming he finishes the season and gets 16 more hits in the last 40 games or so – meaning he won’t get injured or suddenly freeze at the plate – Ichiro will have nine straight seasons of 200 hits, more than 2000 in his career, and his fourth season batting at least .350.  Dusting off a 1986 Bill James Baseball Abstract, his Hall of Fame calculator shows that Ichiro has  collected nearly 200 points of accomplishments that Hall of Fame voters tend to consider when voting for someone – which makes him, well, overqualified (the gray area is from 70 – 130; beyond that is pretty much guaranteed in, unless you are Pete Rose or Barry Bonds).  Then, you add that he was the first Japanese position player and remains one of the most skilled outfielders and hitters – he certainly qualifies as both famous and great.   Ichiro may wind up with more professional hits than Pete Rose when it’s all over – he could have 4500 hits if you count his days in Japan.

Hurry Back! Alfonso Soriano continues to miss games with a sore knee.  Gee – I thought it was his poor batting.  (Sorry – Angry Cub Fan in me typing that one…)  Marlins reliever Brendan Donnelly hits the DL with a calf strain.  I watched the play – I’m not sure what he did, but if he can’t field a grounder without getting hurt, he needs to step aside.  Phillies infielder Greg Dobbs also has a strained calf.  Cardinal starter Kyle Lohse just came off the DL – he heads back with a strained groin (hopefully his own).

Welcome Back! Miguel Cairo was called up by the Phillies to take Dobbs’ spot.  Did you see that Armando Benitez was signed by Houston?  He heads to Round Rock to see if he can still pitch.    Jason Grilli returned to Texas from the DL.  Seattle is giving one more shot to former Marlin Randy Messenger.  I can answer this for you – this Messenger has already been shot.

Pennant Chances:  Now that the season has entered its final quarter, let’s pronounce some races over…

Nobody is catching the Phillies or Cards.  The Yankees would have a significant collapse if they were to lose now, as would the Angels.  Even though it’s closer than before, I have faith in the Dodgers – but give Colorado a 15% chance to win, and San Francisco 10%.  The NL Wild Card is too close to call, but it’s going to be one of the teams from the West.  If someone were to surprise, it’s going to be Atlanta because they suddenly have a healthy pitching staff – but it’s getting late to put up a fight.  I’d give them a 15% chance of pulling it off.  The closest race is Detroit and Chicago in the AL Central, and I am relatively confident it will be Detroit by a nose because Chicago plays too sloppily to win.  Minnesota doesn’t have a fight in them this season thanks to a failing rotation.  The AL Wild Card will be the best race because Texas is good enough to win and Boston is just crazy enough to blow it right now.  I know – I picked Boston to win it all, but the last three weeks have been disastrous and I don’t see how they will get out of it.  I give Tampa a 15% chance of surprising somebody.