Happy Birthday, Emil “Dutch” Levsen

Emil Levsen, the last major league pitcher to throw complete game wins in both games of a doubleheader, was born on this day (April 29th) in 1898.

Levsen was born in Wyoming, Iowa and earned a degree from Iowa State University.  After college, he was signed to pitch for the Cedar Rapids Bunnies, a member of the Mississippi Valley League in 1923.  There, Levsen – a husky, broad-shouldered righthander – won 19 of 23 decisions and earned notice when he pitched nine innings of relief against Rock Island and faced just 27 batters.  A Cleveland Indians scout signed him for Tris Speaker, and Levsen pitched a couple of games in relief at the end of the season.

Speaker liked what he saw – a big fastball and sharp curve, and a smooth side-armed delivery that threw strikes.  However, Speaker thought the kid needed some seasoning, so Levsen was dispatched to Terre Haute in the Three-I league for 1924.  There, Levsen continued his winning ways, taking 14 of 22 decisions with a listed ERA of 2.02.  A similar thing happened during spring training of 1925 – Levsen was sent to Rochester in the International League and again he was solid – 14 – 9 with good control.  In 1926, Levsen wouldn’t need seasoning – he’d be in the Indians rotation.

The 1926 Cleveland Indians were a very good team featuring Luke and Joe Sewell, first baseman George Burns, an aging but able Tris Speaker, and ace pitcher George Uhle.  Uhle carried the staff on his back – winning 27 games and pitching 318 innings.  The number two guy was Dutch Levsen.

Levsen got off to a great start and the Indians were in the playoff hunt.  On August 28th, facing the Boston Red Sox, Levsen cruised through 30 batters by inducing easy flies and pop ups.  The Sox got but one run on four hits.  As the game came to a close, Burns challenged Levsen to throw the second game.  “Pitch the second game, Emil, and I’ll buy you the best hat in town.”

Levsen asked Speaker if he could give it a go, and Speaker – knowing that Uhle, who was scheduled to throw the second game, could use a day off – allowed Levsen to pitch.  Levsen matched his first game, allowing just four-hits and one run, and cruised to a second victory.

Levsen was given more than a week of rest until his next start, but he was off – he didn’t finish the first inning.  In fact, Levsen was hit pretty freely in most of his remaining starts (44 hits in 33 innings), excepting a must-win game against the Yankees, a Ruth and Gehrig-led team that Levsen held to just two hits.  The Yankees finished the season more strongly, though, and won the pennant with the Indians finishing second, just a couple of games back.

The next spring, Levsen’s arm came up lame.  He struggled to a 3 – 7 record, and was never able to get back on track.  A few years later, the Indians gave up on him.  Dispatched to New Orleans in 1930, Levsen retired just seven years into a professional baseball career.

While the statistics suggest otherwise, Levsen never blamed his doubleheader victories for his dead arm.  “I pitched fine after the doubleheader.  I held the Yankees to two hits in one game.  Spring training was just too much.”

Levsen never left baseball entirely, becoming involved in youth programs and eventually becoming the president of the Junior Legion in Iowa.  He also owned a creamery in Springfield, Iowa, a short drive outside of Cedar Rapids.  Later, he got into life insurance sales and worked briefly with the Department of Agriculture in Cincinnati.  He died on 12 March 1972 while retired near Minneapolis.

Dolgan, Bob. “Let’s Pitch Two”, Cleveland Plain Dealer, 24 April 2001.

“The Middle Man Merits a Salute”, Baseball Digest, August 1986, Pages 23 to 32.

“Early Indians Find Bad Weather at Spa”, The Sporting News, 28 February 1924, Page 2.

“Cedar Rapids Signs Marquardt as Boss”, The Sporting News, 26 January 1939, Page 10.

“Echoes of an Earlier Day”, The Sporting News, 9 September 1926, Page 1.

“Speaker No Doubt Hopes So, At Least”, The Sporting News, 19 March 1925, Page 2.

Also, I used data found at Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com

 

Welcome Back!

The Atlanta Braves activated Tim Hudson from the 15-day DL, which means that Cory Gearrin heads back to AAA Gwinnett.

 

Happy Birthday!

Others celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

(1879) Noodles Hahn – a decent pitcher at the beginning of the 20th century
(1933) Ed Charles
(1934) Luis Aparicio
(1947) Tom House
(1951) Rick “The Roostah” Burleson
(1952) Bob McClure
(1966) John Vander Wal
(1971) Sterling Hitchcock
(1978) Tony Armas

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2012 Season Forecast – Atlanta Braves

2011 Record: 89 – 73
Runs Scored: 641 (10th in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 605 (3rd in the NL)

The Braves actually played better than can be expected based on the ratio of runs to runs scored (estimated 86 wins).

2011 Season Summary:

Never really a threat to win the division (to my dismay as I predicted them to surprise many to win the east), the Braves were never really bad.  They could win in four spots of the rotation, but they couldn’t generate enough offense to make it easy.  Off seasons by Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla (he needed a 30-game hitting streak to get to .233 on the season), and anyone who played center field offset a bullpen led by Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters that held every lead…  Well, until the last ten days of the season.  Like their old cousins in Boston, the Braves couldn’t get that one or two wins that would have sealed the deal and wound up being kicked out the playoffs by the Cardinals.

Pitching:

The Braves have ample starting pitching.  Tim Hudson won 16 games and was well above average all year long.  Three others made between 22 and 25 starts – all were successful.  Jair Jurrjens, who is constantly on the trading block, was the best of the lot (13 – 6, 2.96 ERA), but Tommy Hanson and Brandon Beachy were both decent.  Mike Minor took on 15 starts and continues to improve – he’s nearly a league average pitcher now and could be ready for a rotation slot.  Only Derek Lowe struggled – he fell off the map in the second half – and has been dispatched to Cleveland to see if he has anything left.  The Braves even have prospects in Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado if needed.  Looking forward, the rotation could still be solid if not a hair better than last year.  Hudson and Jurrjens might take a slight step backward, but Beachy and Minor could be better and one of the rookies will most certainly be better than Derek Lowe last year.

In the bullpen, three pitchers had absolutely stunning years.  Closer Craig Kimbrel saved 46 games and was 16 runs better than the average pitcher in his 75 innings.  Set up man Jonny Venters was even better – 21.5 runs better than average.  The best of the lot was Eric O’Flaherty, who had a 0.98 ERA in just shy of 74 innings and saved the team nearly 25 full runs.  George Sherrill, Scott Linebrink, and Christian Martinez were also above average pitchers last year.  Looking ahead, it’s hard to see the Braves being BETTER than that – it’s rare to save that many runs over 70+ innings – so I think gravity is going to pull this team back some 25 runs.  O’Flaherty can’t possibly have a sub 1.00 ERA again, for example.  This will still be a good unit, but it can’t be THAT good again.

Catching:

Brian McCann is one of the premier offensive catchers in the game and his defensive skills are pretty good.  His backup Dave Ross remains dependable and adds a little offense.  As a unit, this is one of the three best teams in baseball behind the plate.  At issue is the fact that McCann may be the best offensive player on the team – but his best seasons seem to be two or three years ago.

Infield:

Defensively, an infield of Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Alex Gonzalez, and Chipper Jones is, at best, not bad but not too good either.  It’s actually better when Martin Prado plays third.  Offensively, they put up runs – and that’s one reason the Braves win games.

Freddie Freeman is going to be one of the better first basemen in the NL – already a fair fielder and an above average hitter, he will be an all-star for many years to come.  Dan Uggla has been a steady, dependable power source and is good on the double play.  Tyler Pastornicky is going to get every shot to take over at short, now that Alex Gonzalez has been allowed to leave.  Gonzalez gave you flashes of power, but his bat isn’t great anymore and his glove is now just pretty good for an old guy.  Pastornicky will have better range, but might not match the offense.  As for Chipper Jones, he’s nursing sore knees and has already said that 2012 will be his last season.  Defensively, he’s been problematic at third for a while but his bat has been good enough.  Now, that’s not going to be the case.  When Jones is gone, Prado or Eric Hinske will get innings.  It sure would be more beneficial if Prado hit closer to .300 than .260 as he did last year.

I think Freeman and Uggla will be slightly better this year, which should make up for the team losing runs at short and third – call it a wash…

Outfield:

I think that the Cubs have a weak outfield in terms of production.  The Braves aren’t much better.

In left, you had Martin Prado – decent glove, middling power, and slightly worse than league average production.  That’s LEAGUE average, not LEFT FIELD average – where you want someone who hits 20+ homers and might drive in 85 or more runs.  Prado went 13 – 57 – .260 with hardly any other benefits (4/12 SBs, 34 walks in 129 games).  If Jose Constanza can hit the way he did in 109 at bats last year, that wouldn’t hurt.  Unfortunately, he’s not a banger either – he’s a burner and could play center for many teams.

In center, nobody hit.  Michael Bourn will be there all year, but he’s never hit .300 and doesn’t hit for power.  Nate McClouth hit .228 with four homers and Jordan Schafer was less productive (and sent to Houston for Bourn).  A full year of Bourn will be better, though, than what the Braves had last year.

In right, you had sophomore Jason Heyward, who fell off the map after such a promising rookie season.  I don’t see him hitting .227 again.  He still shows some patience at the plate and his power remains.

The problem may be a lack of a plan B.  Eric Hinske remains, as does Constanza, but even a returning Matt Diaz doesn’t look to help much if a hole opens up in the outfield.

Bench:

Prado gives the Braves some versatility, as does Hinske.  Diaz can pinch hit and platoon some.  Josh and Jack Wilson are around, but don’t offer much offense (and Jack is getting up there in years) and both are losing defensive skills, too.  Ross is good behind the plate.  It’s a full bench, but maybe not a great one.

Prospects:

The top prospects in AAA mostly made it for cups of coffee last year, including Constanza, Teheran and Pastornicky.  The one who didn’t was undrafted first baseman Mauro Gomez, who might be able to help out.  I don’t have a read on his glove, but he’s a decent power bat – might hit .250 with 20 homers in the big leagues.  He just doesn’t have a place to play here.  Another guy who wouldn’t kill you might be pitcher Todd Redmond, who had decent numbers at AAA Gwinett, going 10 – 8 with 142 Ks and just 47 walks in 169.2 innings.  The problem is that he’s been at AAA for three years now and he’s probably going to have to get a shot somewhere else as he’s not high on the prospect list.

The best hitter in AA isn’t high on the prospect lists either – that’s 26 year old Ernesto Mejia, who has stats like Mauro Gomez and, thus, has nowhere to play.  Some like infielder Mykal Jones, but he’s not going to replace Pastornicky any time soon.  Pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado got shots – they have major league stuff and are just kids.  Another good arm might be Brett Oberholtzer, who is close but needs more strikeouts to move up more quickly.  Reliever Billy Bullock has quite the arm, but lacks in control (65Ks, 34BBs in 49.2 innings).

A+ Rome features catcher Joe Terdoslavich, a power hitter who had 52 doubles to go with 20 homers. A one-time former #1 pick, Cory Rasmus has the stuff, but needs to find the strike zone more frequently – and stay healthier.

2012 Forecast:

I think the offense can be 25 runs better than last year – might even be more than that – because Bourn is here all year and Heyward will be better.  On the other hand, I think that the gravitational pull that will be working against the bullpen will equally offset that 25 run gain.  Throw in the fact that two other teams may well be challenging for the top spot in the NL East, the Braves will be lucky to finish with 85 wins, which might be third or fourth in this division.

Marlins Open 2012 With Excitement, Ali, and a Loss

The Miami Marlins opened up the new stadium with fireworks, but couldn’t put together any hits off of Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse in a 4 – 1 loss on opening night.  Muhammad Ali delivered the game ball, which was pretty cool and very sad at the same time.  You could hear the cheers for Ali throughout the stadium, but the effects of Parkinson’s disease are painfully obvious – the tremors are very visible and Ali looked so much older (he’s 70) than the man I remember as a kid.

I met Ali when working for Sprint in Kansas City in 1992.  Even then, his voice was softened and he slurred, and there were small tremors in his hands.  I remember two or three things about that visit.  First, his hands were enormous.  When I shook his hand, his hand practically devoured mine.  Second, he still had a great sense of humor – he did this joke where he claimed he could move a briefcase with his mind.  When it didn’t move, he asked us, “Who do you think I am?  I’m a boxer, not a magician.”  Finally, what I really remember was thinking to myself that this was the closest thing to meeting God that I will likely ever experience.  I mean – it was HIM, Ali.  The Greatest.  Of all the people I have met, it was the only time I can remember being totally awed by someone’s presence.

Back to baseball…

If you are an Orioles fan, this can’t be good…  The Orioles lost a charity baseball game to the State College of Florida Manatees – a community college team – 2 – 1 in eight innings.  A couple of years ago, the Manatees beat Pittsburgh, a team that went on to lose nearly 100 games…  [Bradenton.com]

Andy Pettitte threw a scoreless inning against the Mets and hopes to get ready in time to join the Yankees in May.  If he makes it back, he’ll get a one-year, $2.5 million dollar contract.  [SI]

Torii Hunter accidentally set off the alarm in his house, leading to a visit from a couple of gun-wielding police officers.  The officers were merely following protocol and the guns were never pointed directly at Hunter.  However, Hunter’s identification was in an upstairs bedroom and he was tailed as he walked up to get his wallet.  [ESPN]

Vanderbilt pitching recruit and potential first round draft pick Stephen Gant was found dead near his Linden, TN home apparently having committed suicide by gunshot.  An investigation into Gant’s death continues.  [FoxSports]

Aches and Pains

Tampa closer Kyle Farnsworth will go on the DL with soreness in his elbow caused by a muscle strain.  He joins B.J. Upton (back) and Sam Fuld (surgery, right wrist) on the DL.  [ESPN]

Other players who found their way to the DL as the season started include:

Tim Hudson (back)
Ryan Madson (TJ Surgery)
Carl Crawford (wrist)
Grady Sizemore (back)
A.J. Burnett (eye socket)
Ted Lilly (neck)
Stephen Drew (ankle)
Charlie Morton (hip)
Andrew Bailey (thumb)
Jose Ceda (TJ Surgery)
Ryan Kalish (shoulder)
Joba Chamberlain (dislocated ankle)

and a number of players who will get 15 days after being nicked up in spring training.

Transaction Wire:

The details of the deal signed by the Reds and first baseman Joey Votto were released – 12 years and $251.5 million, the third largest contract in value and the longest in terms of years in baseball history.  The deal includes a club option in 2024 (!) when Votto would be 41 years old.  This more than doubles the contract given to Ken Griffey, Jr. – at one time the largest contract signing in Cincinnati history…  [ESPN]

The New York Mets signed Jonathan Niese to a five year extension worth more than $25 million.  Niese won 11 for the Mets in 2011.  [SI]

Washington pitcher John Lannan was optioned to AAA, and wasn’t happy about it.  Lannan was an opening day starter in 2009 and 2010, and has requested a trade.  [ESPN]

The Twins sent pitcher Scott Baker to the DL and optioned starting pitcher Jason Marquis to AA New Britain to get work since both missed time in Spring Training.  [SI]

In a late spring training trade, the New York Yankees sent pitcher George Kontos to San Francisco for catcher Chris Stewart.  Stewart was given the backup job, which meant that Francisco Cervelli was unhappily dispatched to AAA.  Kontos pitched well at AAA last season earning a cup of coffee in September.  The big right hander is a Northwestern Grad…  As for Chris Stewart, he’s a catch and throw guy – not much of a hitter even in the minors.  He must be pretty good – Cervelli has logged a lot of innings the last couple of years so it’s a bit of a surprise to see Cervelli moved to AAA.

This is the time when players are optioned to AAA or recalled to the majors having earned a spot on the roster – it’s a long list.  A couple of things caught my eye, though…

Nick Johnson made the Orioles roster
Felix Pie was released by Cleveland
Bill Hall was released by New York.

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cards, cake, or remembrances include:

(1876) Bill Dinneen – pitcher, later an umpire
(1907) Merritt (Sugar) Cain…  Today, he’d get the song Cocaine played when he came to the plate.  Shouldn’t Lorenzo Cain have the nickname “Sugar”?
(1938) Ron Hansen
(1951) Rennie Stennett – one of my favorite Pirates of the 1970s…
(1976) Ross Gload
(1985) Lastings Milledge

2010 Season Forecast: Atlanta Braves

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 86 – 76 (3rd NL East)
2008: 72 – 90
2007: 84 – 78
2006: 79 – 83
2005: 90 – 72

Runs Scored: 735 (6th NL)
Runs Allowed: 641 (4th NL)

When a team outscores its opponents by 100 runs, the team can expect to win more than 90 games.  The Braves should have finished about 92 – 70.

Season Recap:

The Braves spent three months figuring things out – playing indifferent baseball and hanging within a few games of .500 through June.

In June, however, the pitching came together.  Javier Vazquez started pitching like an ace, Tommy Hanson joined the rotation and started winning like Brave starters of the previous decade.  Jair Jurrjens acted like a Cy Young candidate, and Derek Lowe ate innings.  After manager Bobby Cox flipped closers, replacing Mike Gonzalez with Rafael Soriano.

When the offense started gelling in July (Matt Diaz replacing Jeff Francouer and Martin Prado replacing Kelly Johnson), the Braves started making ground on the rest of the league.  Falling to 34 – 40, the Braves would win most series down the stretch – and then going on tear in September, winning 16 of 19 games to get into the fringe of the wild card race.  Unfortunately, they faced an equally talented Marlins squad, and lost the last six games – including four straight to Washington and four one-run games in the mix.

Pitching:

Javier Vazquez, new Yankee fourth starter, won 15 and finished with a 2.87 ERA – saving the Braves more than 36 runs.  And with that, he was the SECOND best starter on the staff.  Jair Jurrjens didn’t flash the same K/W numbers, but had a 2.60 ERA and saved the Braves 38 runs over what one might expect from average pitching.

Derek Lowe was a 15 game winner in a slightly off season – his ERA was 4.67, which might have been bad luck with balls in play followed by feeling the pressure of struggling.  Still – Lowe made 34 starts and remains a dependable arm.

Tommy Hanson joined the rotation to make 21 starts, winning 11, and finishing with a sub 3 ERA – and it’s not easy to find teams in recent years to have three pitchers with at least 120 innings and ERAs under 3.00.  (Houston, 2005 – Boston, 2002).  Finally, Kenshin Kawakami made 25 starts and pitched well enough to deserve a better record than 7 – 12.

The good news is that Tim Hudson returned from 2008’s season ending surgery to make seven solid starts and ready himself for a rotation slot in 2010.  The Braves even tested two other options – JoJo Reyes made five forgettable starts (7.00 ERA) while Kris Medlin worked four starts into mostly bullpen work and would be a nice fifth option or reliever.

In the bullpen, Rafael Soriano smoked 102 batters in 75.2 innings, and only allowed 80 baserunners saving 28 games.  Mike Gonzalez accepted his demotion with a vengeance and finished with 90Ks in 74.1 innings – providing the Braves with a devastating one-two punch to close games.  Medlin, Eric O’Flaherty, Jeff Bennett, Peter Moylan, and Manny Acosto also pitched better than average innings – one of the deeper bullpens in the National League.

Looking ahead, Vazquez is gone – but it might not matter.  Tim Hudson is back and looks great (he did in the spring), Jurrjens returns after two straight solid seasons, and Tommy Hanson gets to make 33 starts instead of 21.  Derek Lowe is still around, and the fifth spot could be handled by either Kawakami or Medlin without feeling any loss in skill.  That’s FIVE sold starters with a dependable sixth option.

The bullpen got a makeover when both Soriano and Gonzalez took free agent options in Tampa Bay and Baltimore (respectively).  Still – the Braves have options, signing a newly healthy Billy Wagner and bringing in Takashi Saito from Boston.  These two are old (38 and 40) but have been dependable for years.  Moylan, Medlen, O’Flaherty, and Jesse Chavez are able backups and Jo-Jo Reyes isn’t a lousy 12th arm in the pen.  He’ll be better this year.

Catching:

Brian McCann is the best hitting catcher in the NL right now – power, average, and despite troublesome issues with his eyes gets a few walks from time to time…  His backup, David Ross, isn’t chopped liver either – slugging .508 and getting on base to a .380 clip.  This is the best catching in the NL – offensively anyway.

Infield:

The Braves shifted from Casey Kotchman to Adam LaRoche at the trading deadline and got better production from LaRoche offensively and defensively – despite Kotchman’s reputation.  It certainly helped the Braves finish strongly.  For 2010, the Braves are giving veteran third baseman Troy Glaus a chance.  I’m not sure this will be an improvement, to be honest.  Glaus has had troubles staying healthy and hasn’t been a regular first baseman before, so this would be a question mark going forward.

Kelly Johnson had the job at the beginning of the year, but Martin Prado will carry it forward.  Prado can hit, he’s a tolerable fielder (no different than Johnson), so this should be a benefit in 2010.

Yunel Escobar remains a potent offensively player, and is improving equally as a defensive player.  He’s a good shortstop to own in fantasy leagues for 2010.

Chipper Jones is running out of years – injured more frequently and his batting numbers slopped, though he still has enough patience to help score runs.  Defensively, he’s not much – costing his team nearly 20 runs a year.  It’s time to find a replacement by 2012, wouldn’t you think?

Omar Infante and Brooks Conrad back up this unit – Infante has some skills as a hitter, but wasn’t very mobile defensively in 2009.  Conrad is getting his feet wet, but nears 30.

Outfield:

Garrett Anderson was a free agent signee and test drive who hit a little but couldn’t cover enough ground in left.  He’s gone in 2010, with his replacement, Matt Diaz, likely getting a full time job as a fourth outfielder and left fielder.

Nate McClouth came over from Pittsburgh when rookie Jordan Schafer‘s injuries interrupted his development.  McClouth can hit and isn’t an awful fielder, but he won’t make anyone forget Andruw Jones in his prime.  Melky Cabrera was added and may move McClouth to left and/or picking up defensive innings as required.

With Jeff Francoeur now a Met, the Braves are turning to rookie Jason Heyward, who is rated by many as the top prospect in all of baseball.  He may not have Francoeur’s arm, but he can hit and he has young legs.  It should be a fun season for jersey sales.

Omar Infante can cover the remaining innings in the outfield, and Eric Hinske arrives able to play corner outfield and infield positions as well as pinch hit.

Prospects:

AAA Gwinnett featured a lot of veteran hitters and a few pitching prospects – some of whom aren’t around because they were sent out in trades (Charlie Morton), or because they are on the team (Hanson, Medlin).  Boone Logan and Luis Valdez are good pitchers – might be prospects on other teams.

The best prospect at AA was Jason Heyward – after that it’s slim pickings.  Pitcher Jose Ortegano has control and is just 22.  He might make the bullpen in two years.

A+ Myrtle Beach features reliever Cory Gearrin, who walked just three and fanned 32 in 29.1 innings, earning 17 saves.  Gearrin was still good in 20 outings at AA Mississippi – and appears to have reigned in the wildness that marked his first two years in the minors.

J.J. Hoover, Dimaster Delgado, and Randall Delgado looked solid at A Rome, and are just getting their careers started.  Same with 2008 draft pick Adam Milligan, who showed flashes of power and a sweet bat at three levels. Too bad he’s not a third baseman…

Forecast:

Defensively, the team will probably stay the same.  The rotation is solid and can withstand an injury or two.  The bullpen is deep, but not necessarily capable of stellar performances.  However, the defense should be better in the outfield and middle infield.

Offensively, I’m not so sure, but I don’t see many reasons to think it’s going to be WORSE.  I don’t see how it’s going to be BETTER.  I think the positives and negatives will offset each other and the team will still score runs.  There are a lot of good hitters in their prime, and a couple of veteran bats and a deep bench.

As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if the team is still 100 runs better than their opponents, and win 90 – 92 games.  And, if the bad luck in decisions that seemed to follow them last year goes away, it could be more.  Will it be enough to beat the Phillies?  I don’t know.  But they should be a playoff contender for sure.  The system calls for 92 – 70, so I’ll go with that.

Yankees – Phillies on Wednesday as Angels Collapse…

It was over within minutes of the first gaffe, a baserunning blunder by Vlad Guerrero where he got caught off of first base on a shallow fly to right field.  Suddenly, Joe Saunders couldn’t get the same strike calls as Andy Pettitte – who really was great, by the way – and a few walks led to a Johnny Damon liner that put the Yankees ahead for good.  However, I still thought the Angels had a chance with Mariano Rivera out there for a six out save.  Los Angeles extended Mariano in the eighth inning and got a run to cut the lead to 3 – 2.  If the Angels and Scott Kazmir could have gotten a very quick 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the eighth, I would have bet on the Angels to force a game seven.  Instead, two errors on consecutive bunts finished off whatever life was in the Angels.  Rivera, now rested, easily dispatched three batters in the ninth and the Yankees are heading to the World Series.

Tomorrow or Wednesday, we’ll take a few minutes to break it down – but long and short, the two best teams in each league are meeting to decide it all.  And that’s cool.  To make the Indians feel worse, it’ll be Cliff Lee against C.C. Sabathia in the opener on Wednesday night…

Mike Scioscia was generally complimentary of the Yankees, but he did bag MLB for catering to Fox TV wishes and adding a number of off days between the end of the season and the playoffs, between each round of the playoffs, and even adding off days within the playoffs.  He’s right, you know.  The Yankees and Angels, after playing 162 games in 180 days during the regular season, only played eight games in the last 20.  Suddenly the fall classic is forced into playing World Series games in November.  [ESPN]

Other news…

Steve Phillips didn’t survive his latest sex scandal and now will have to hope for a book deal after he completes a recovery program at a treatment facility for an undisclosed problem.  ESPN fired the Baseball Tonight analyst because his reputation was “irreparably damaged.”  [ESPN]

Tim Hudson and the Atlanta Braves are discussing a three-year deal that would replace his one-year $12 million option for 2010.  Hudson looked good following Tommy John surgery and is potentially a free agent.  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday!

Two very patient hitters of the 70s and 80s celebrate today – Toby Harrah (1948) ad Mike Hargrove (1949).  Others celebrating include:  Frank Selee (1859), William (Kid) Gleason (1866), Lee Tannehill (1880), Harry Camnitz (1884), Snuffy Stirnweis (1918), Elio Chacon (1936), Steve Rogers (1949), Wayne Garland (1950), Mark Sweeney (1969), and Francisco Liriano (1983)

Wagner Retiring? That’s What He Told the NY Post…

I’ve always been a Billy Wagner fan.  He threw HARD – and gave great effort to do so.  Few left handed closers could match his career.  And now, according to the NY Post, that career might be over.  According to sources, he wants to close games near his home in Virginia, and Boston declined his option so that Wagner could pursue his own deal.  (Washington needs help, but it might be a few years before the Nationals are competitive, and Baltimore has a couple of options but none as good as Wagner if he’s healthy.).  Even after Tommy John surgery, Wagner had some success in 17 outings…  Sources say that Wagner is going to put his family first in making a decision about playing again.  [MLB]

Playoff Notes…

Joba Chamberlain will stay in the pen…  Manager Joe Girardi will stay with a three-man rotation for the foreseeable future.  C.C. Sabathia gets the opener (against Angel John Lackey), while A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte will get the other starts.  [SI]

Managerial Carousel…

Jose Cruz will no longer coach first base for the Astros.  However, he will get another position in the organization.  In fact, a lot of coaches are pursuing other options – though Sean Berry, the hitting coach keeps his gig.  Doesn’t the new manager (whomever it will be) get a say in this?  [MLB]

GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy will be retained by San Francisco for 2010.  Now, if Sabean can find some offense to match the pitching staff, they could be playing next October, too.  [ESPN]

In fact, the entire Bay Area baseball coaching world can rest assured that a job remains next year.  Oakland announced that they will be retaining the manager and coaching staff.

Meanwhile, the Indians are saying WHO they are talking to (except in mentioning that Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was contacted), but they are making like Houston and talking to a lot of people about replacing Eric Wedge as manager.  [ESPN]

Hot Stove League… Tim Hudson wants a “wow'” offer, or he might decline his 2010 option (worth $12 million) and become a free agent.  The Braves have a lot of pitching right now – if it were me, I might let him test the market.  [FoxSports]

But I wanted an autograph… Steiner Sports is suing Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for not living up to obligations linked to marketing ventures.  Molina was supposed to signing autographs and attending events and what not, received an advance, but has refused to do any work.  [ESPN]

Hurry Back! Seattle catcher Rob Johnson will have operations on both hips and his left wrist – but plans on being ready for spring training…  And, Nationals reliever Mike MacDougal also had arthroscopic hip surgery, but should be ready for March.  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday! Yankee Manager Joe Girardi turns 45 today…  I know what he wants for a present.  Others on the birthday list include: Ivy Olson (1885), Oscar Charleston (1896), Harry (The Cat) Brecheen (1914), Tommy Harper (1940), Art Shamsky (1941), Al Oliver (1946), Ed Figueroa (1948), Willie Mays Aikens (1954), Ryan Church (1978), Boof Bonser (1981), and Carlos Marmol (1982).

What do I have to do to get this kind of marketing from MLB? Look for a new book about the 1912 World Series by Michael Vaccaro…

Troubles in Wrigley; Pitchers in the News…

Lou Piniella says, “Blame me,” and then quickly adds, “but it’s a players game – I can only do so much.”  So which is it?  Where is Jim Hendry – he put this team together…  [SI]

Meanwhile, Milton Bradley says that people don’t just taunt him – some of the taunts demonstrate racial bigotry.  ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski says he might be right – even if Bradley isn’t the warm fuzzy right fielder that Gary Matthews or Andre Dawson were.  [ESPN]

By the way, the Cubs lost two of three to Washington – confirming what I had declared yesterday anyway – the Cubs are dead in 2009.

The saddest thing to happen the game, though, was probably the loss of Nyjer Morgan, who broke his hand sliding into third base and may miss the rest of the season.  Morgan is a former hockey player, the one Pirate that EVERYBODY missed when he was sent packing, and apparently is the most popular person on whatever team he plays for.  Morgan hustles, feels privileged to be a ballplayer every day, and is the guy you want your kid to grow up to be, or the guy you want your daughter to date.  (He was also hitting .351 since joining the Nationals, scoring runs and stealing bases by the bushel.)  Hurry back, dude.  [SI]

Atlanta’s Tim Hudson may make his first start of the season on Monday against the Marlins.  (Hmmm – Checking my schedule…  Yes, I’m free.)

Meanwhile, White Sox starter Jake Peavy’s return has been pushed back one turn – he’s going to make one more start for AAA on Saturday…  My friend, Nick, came to the gym this morning decked out in his Sox garb ($65 at Comiskey Park) and told he he was there for Elvis night.  Though I am a Cubs fan, you have to admit – games at old Comiskey (and even the ugly new one) were always a gas.  [MLB]

I was hoping that the Marlins might give a look-see at soon to be former Red Sox pitcher Brad Penny, and they did.  So did the Rockies, White Sox, Rays, and Rangers.  I wonder who will give him his next paycheck…  [MLB]

A lot of teams ask waivers on any number of players in August, just to see what interest there might be in various players.  FoxSports listed Trevor Hoffman (Milwaukee) and the duo of Rich Harden and Aaron Heilman (Cubs) as people who were on that list and received bids.  It’s getting late in the trading season – after 8/31 you can’t trade at all – and this doesn’t mean a trade is in the works, but you never know…  [FoxSports]

Welcome Back! Dave Bush came off the DL for Milwaukee.

Hurry Back! Texas desnignated Jason Jennings for assignment.  He was a good pitcher once – like five or six years ago for Colorado.  Jennings has been fighting his control, and actually hadn’t pitched that badly for Texas – but Neftali Feliz is better.

Is it Over? MLB reported that the Dodgers moved Jason Schmidt from the 15 day to the 60 day DL, which means his season – and quite possibly his career – is over.  Schmidt’s body won’t do what his heart and mind want him to do – and it’s tough to watch a really good pitcher go.