Phillies Join MLB Final Four; Rest of League News (Finally!)

After broomsticks cleared out the Red Sox, Cardinals, and Twins, the Phillies pulled out a stunning come from behind 9th inning victory to top the Rockies, 5 – 4, and win their best of five series in four games.  The Rockies had rallied for three runs off of Phillies starter Cliff Lee and a couple of relievers in the bottom of the  eighth, but the Phillies answered with three runs of their own, led by Ryan Howard’s two-out double and a flair off the bat of Jayson Werth to beat Rockies closer Huston Street.  Street had been awesome all season, so I hope he doesn’t suffer like Brad Lidge did after he blew a playoff series to St. Louis a few years back…

So who you got?  Yankees or Angels?  Dodgers or Phillies?  Games start Thursday…  I can’t wait.

Hot Stove Already Warming Up…

The Red Sox have tried to lock in Jason Bay to a contract, but Bay admitted that he’s going to test the market unless he gets a “wow” offer in the next two weeks.   At least two others have filed for free agency, pitchers David Davidson (is that redundant?) and Scott Proctor.  [MLB]

If the White Sox are really interested in Bobby Jenks, perhaps they should be less vocal in asking Jenks to lose weight. Jenks is starting to take it personally.  On the other hand, Jenks has become less effective each of the last two seasons – so maybe a treadmill or aerobics class might be a good thing.  [MLB]

Managerial Carousel…

Tony LaRussa isn’t sure what he wants to do in 2010, a season where his pitching coach became disgruntled (they traded Dave Duncan’s son away, for crying out loud), and the team was blasted out of the playoffs with little more than a whimper.  LaRussa, despite his obvious efforts to color his hair, is 65 now and his contract is up at the conclusion of the World Series.  The Cards would keep him, no doubt, but at least it gives some news people things to talk about.  [FoxSports]

The Houston Astros have at least ten people on the list of managerial candidates to replace Cecil Cooper.  Get out your 1980s and 1990s baseball cards…  Dave Clark, Tim Bogar, Randy Ready, Brad Mills, Bob Melvin, Al Pedrique…  Even Manny Acta is on the list (really?).  [FoxSports]

Hurry Back! Tim Wakefield heads to surgery to remove fragments from his back.  Hopefully the knuckleballer can come back for another go…  [MLB]

Is it Over? The Padres waived Cliff Floyd…  (San Diego also waived Shawn Hill and Cha Seung Baek.)  For what it’s worth, MLB referred to Floyd as a DH – but can a NL team really carry a DH?

Happy Birthday! Rube Waddell was born on Friday the 13th, 1876, in Bradford, PA.  For this life story, you’ll have to buy my book…  You know, Wild Bill Donovan’s career paralleled Rube’s career – they had many games against each other, including trips to the bowling alley.  How did I never know that Wild Bill was also born on the exact same day?

Others on the birthday list include:  Pickles Dilhoefer (1893), that Black Sox crook Swede Risberg (1894), Eddie Yost (1926), Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews (1931), Bob Bailey (1942), Randy Moffitt (1948), Dick Pole (1950), Frank LaCorte (1951),  George Frazier (1954), *that’s a lot of former Cubs relievers…, and future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman (1967).  Wow – three Hall of Famers on the same day…

Heaven Welcomes… Larry Jansen, a Giants pitcher who won the 1951 playoff game more famous for Bobby Thomson’s homer, died at 89 on Saturday.  Jansen came on in relief of Sal Maglie and got the last two outs (both strikeouts) in the top of the ninth.  That year, Jansen won 23 games – the second time he had won at least 20.  As a rookie in 1947, Jansen went 21 – 5.  He had about a six year run as a top flight pitcher, but his arm left him during the 1952 season when he injured his back and a chiropractor encouraged him to wear a corset for support.  Only, he wasn’t supposed to wear it when he was pitching – and the arm trouble set in when he was compensating by overthrowing.  Jansen said that he was on the road and couldn’t see his own chiropractor and visited someone in New York that had been recommended to him.  His arm never came back, and eventually was released by the Giants in July, 1954.  He got a shot with the Reds in 1956, but he was never really the same.

Jansen actually had been drafted as an amateur in 1940 by the Red Sox but the Sox never signed him – so Jansen started his career with the San Francisco Seals.  The Seals sent him to Salt Lake City in the Pioneer League where he would win 20 games.  Returning to the Seals, he suffered through bouts of pneumonia and when called before the draft board during World War II, he was allowed to stay home and work on the farm and in other war jobs until the war ended.  Returning to play in the PCL, Jansen went 30 – 6 with a 1.57 ERA in 321 innings for the 1946 Seals, and the Giants gobbled him up for $25,000.  Jansen was a few months shy of his 27th birthday when he got his first start with the Giants in 1947.  Among the slices of trivia to which Jansen’s name is attached – he allowed a double to Joe DiMaggio in the Clipper’s final World Series at bat in 1951.  Jansen also pitched five innings of relief in the 1950 all star game, striking out a record tying six batters.

Jansen told a story of how he was closing out the second game of a doubleheader in the ninth inning against the Cardinals and it was getting dark.  He and Wes Westrum, the catcher, were stalling as much as possible – and Stan Musial was the batter.  With two strikes, Westrum strode to the mound and told Larry to act as if was pitching.  Westrum took the ball back behind the plate with him.  Jansen faked his windup and pretended to throw.  Then, Westrum popped the ball in his glove and showed the ball to the ump – who called Musial out on strikes.  Musial was livid – saying the pitch was high and outside…  I looked for this game on Retrosheet – if it happened, it happened on May 2, 1954.  However, Musial had grounded out for the first out of the inning.  The last batter of the game struck out – but it was Rip Repulski.

When Jansen’s career ended, he stayed active in MLB as a pitching coach for the Giants and Cubs, then settled into real estate in his native Oregon.  Jansen and his wife had 10 kids…

Notes:

Attiyeh, Mike. “Larry Jansen, A Forgotten Winner of ’51 Playoff Game,” Baseball Digest.  September 1998.  Pages 64 – 69.

Dexter, Charles. “Pitcher’s Pitcher Larry Jansen,” Baseball Digest, February 1951.  Pages 43 to 48.

McKee, James.  “Larry Jansen Dusts off a few Oldies,” Baseball Digest, June 1969.  Pages 45 – 46.

So the Nationals Might Fire Manny Acta… Will it Help?

A couple of weeks ago, when the second manager firing of 2009 took place, I wondered how long Manny Acta would keep his job in Washington.  Now, FoxSports is reporting that Acta may be fired and replaced by Jim Riggleman, and Sports Illustrated confirms this rumor.

Here’s what I wrote in their season forecast.  I figured 72 – 90 was an optimistic season based on what should be an improved offense (they are better than eight other teams, right in the middle of the pack), but the lack of solid pitching and a thin collection of young talent in the minors would work against them.  For their pitching to improve, they needed at least one of three things to happen: 25 starts by Shawn Hill; improvement from Scott Olsen, and a significant return to form of Daniel Cabrera.

Cabrera was awful and was released after starting 0 – 5 with 5.85 ERA, led by 16 strikeouts and 35 walks in 40 innings.  Nobody has picked up the one time Baltimore prospect and fireballer – a sign that something is really wrong.

Scott Olsen has been eminently hittable, starting 1 – 4 with an ERA over 7, and is on the DL with shoulder inflammation.

As for Shawn Hill, the Nationals decided to release him right after I did the forecast because he was undependable – management never knew if he’d be healthy enough to pitch.  Signed by San Diego, Hill is back on the DL with soreness in his bicep and elbow.

So much for optimism.  Suddenly National fans long for the return of Tim Redding and Odalis Perez.  At 355 runs allowed, no team is worse at preventing runs than the Nationals.

The starters aren’t the only problem.  The bullpen gave up on Chad Cordero, actually had a night where the whole bullpen was overhauled in April, and those that have stayed haven’t been able to maintain the few leads they have actually had.  With 16 wins and 44 losses, there haven’t been that many leads.

Offensively, four players have contributed.  Ryan Zimmerman is a top flight hitter and defender at third base.  When healthy, shortstop Christian Guzman has held his own at the top of the lineup.  First baseman Nick Johnson (knock on wood) has been healthy and gets on base.  Leftfielder Adam Dunn does what he always does – hit homers and draw walks.  Backstop Jesus Flores has been a decent hitter when healthy – he’s just missed half the season.  Outfielder Elijah Dukes has hit a little, but not enough.  I keep thinking he’s going to get seriously hot, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Then what?  Backup catchers aren’t hitting (few do).  Austin Kearns needs to be released, Anderson Hernandez isn’t a major league hitter at second base, and the bench players haven’t helped at all, except an occasional hit from Josh Willingham.  But, Willingham has nine homers and just twelve RBI (!) – is that possible???

AAA Syracuse offers little hope.  Anyone who pitched well there is already on the big league roster or back, including Craig Stammen, Garrett Mock, Tyler Clippard, and Jason Bergmann.  Stammen is in the rotation, and Bergmann has been disappointing since looking like he might have potential back in 2007.  The best hitter is soon to be 30-year-old Jorge Padilla, a very good AAA hitter, but someone who (for whatever reason) hasn’t ever been given a shot.  Padilla no longer has speed to cover center, though, and he wouldn’t have a job on this roster if Roger Bernadina was healthy.  The Nationals need a burner in centerfield who can start or continue rallies, and Dukes or Padilla would hurt pitchers in the new stadium with their lack of range.  Still, he’s cheaper and better than Kearns and might be happy to be a fourth outfielder on this roster.

AA is empty – Ross Detwiler is on the roster, and nobody else is tearing it up at Harrisburg.

That leaves you with trades, and there are few veterans that are going to fetch anything on the open market.  Few contenders are going to need an injury-prone first baseman, or a slugger who can’t realistically cover left field, or an aging shortstop.  The most tradable commodity is starter John Lannon or rookie Jordan Zimmermann, and if Ryan Zimmerman leaves (a la Nate McLouth), the Nationals could draw fewer fans than the Marlins the rest of the way.

Stephen Strasburg.  I think there are issues with racing guys through the minors – not that there aren’t people who can play in the majors without the benefit of a minor league apprenticeship, but that kids need to experience some success that they can fall back on should they stumble in their first outings in the majors.  So, while I believe that the Nationals may have no choice but to race a Stephen Strasburg to the majors, the fact that they have little or no choice but to do so is problematic.

Look, few teams play .267 ball for a whole season.  So, once Riggleman (or someone) gets Acta’s job, it’s going to be a step forward just to play .400 ball.  Getting Scott Olson back and contributing will do that.  Finding four reasonably dependable relievers would certainly help.  Accepting their fate with Austin Kearns and letting Jorge Padilla show appreciation for a shot at playing in the majors might help.  I’d certainly be willing to give Paul Byrd (still available) or someone a shot at being the fifth starter.  But don’t expect miracles.  The Nationals need six quality players – a second baseman, an outfielder, two starters, two relievers.  Firing Manny Acta doesn’t address that.  Of course, neither does stringing Acta along in the press. 

Really, the team needs a completely new management structure – GM, Manager, Minor League Director, the whole thing.  Riggleman gets them to October.  Who is going to get this team to 2012?