Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Wednesday, June 6

Consider me sucked in to the MLB Draft. I know, I should seek counseling.

Why the Rangers are in a good spot to have a big day.

The Rangers are happy with the progress of their prospects in A-ball, with Eric Hurley, Taylor Teagarden, and John Whittleman leading the way. However, their upper levels are thin, and the pitching trio that was coming to save the day in Arlington -- John Danks, Edison Volquez, and Thomas Diamond -- isn't coming after all.

General Manager Jon Daniels said their process in preparing for having extra picks has been to have the area scouts simply identify and evaluate the players and to have the national guys take care of winnowing the pool. "When you give a scout a narrow focus, they almost make it even more narrow in the field, thinking 'this is not the kind of player they want,' " said Daniels. "So we tried to keep it open and encourage our scouts not to eliminate anybody. Bring everyone in and we'll let the medical folks take care of the medicals, let the national guys worry about signability, et cetera."

Like the three teams above, the Rangers can't go wrong by just taking the best players available, but given their home park and their awful rotation performance this year, they can't be blamed for leaning more towards arms than bats. "All things being equal, we'll lean pitcher over position player," said Daniels, "but we haven't given our area guys that direction, and we haven't gone high school versus college. We'll evaluate all the risks, but I didn't want the draft pool narrowed before we had to."

Texas' willingness to sign Scott Boras clients could give them a big leg up in this draft, where Boras has seven or eight first-round talents, but many teams drafting ahead of Texas won't exceed MLB's "recommended" slot bonuses. That could mean a Matt Wieters or a Matt Harvey falls to Texas, and I don't see them passing.

10 names to know for the MLB Draft

Sportsbullies looks at the Draft

Victor Diaz slams the Rangers to a win

Keyed by Victor Diaz's second grand slam of the season, the Rangers scored six runs in the first against Detroit's Nate Robertson. Then Rheinecker gave back half the lead in the blink of an eye.

"They gave me a six-run lead, and I didn't pound the strike zone," Rheinecker said. "I have a bitter taste in my mouth from this start compared to my first outing last year. It seemed like I was always a pitch behind in the count."

Having escaped a bases-loaded situation in the first, Rheinecker wasn't as fortunate in the second. He allowed the first four hitters to reach base and walked Gary Sheffield with the bases loaded. When he allowed a leadoff homer to Brandon Inge to start the fourth, then walked the next hitter and hit the next, he was removed.
Fortunately for the Rangers, Willie Eyre, perhaps the most effective pitcher on the staff, got out of the jam without allowing a run. If he hadn't, the Rangers would now be the not-so-proud owners of the highest official starting rotation ERA in major league history.

As it stands, the Rangers' ERA increased for a fifth consecutive game and the 12th time in the last 14 games. It stands at 6.635, less than a hundredth of a point off the record for the worst starting rotation ERA in history. Detroit, in 1996, set the record at 6.643.

Sporting a healthy back, a trimmed up 'do and a supposedly improved changeup, Rheinecker became the ninth pitcher to start for the Rangers this season. He gave little indication that anything has changed from last year when he was dumped midway through the season.

Rheinecker allowed seven hits and four walks in 14 at-bats during his three-plus innings of work. It raised his career batting average allowed as a starter to .368, impressive considering Ty Cobb holds the all-time record for highest batting average as a hitter at .367. For his last 10 starts, Rheinecker has allowed opponents a .418 average.

"In his defense, that is one of the best hitting teams in baseball," manager Ron Washington said. "He battled. But when it got to 6-4, I just felt like I didn't want the game to get away from us."

The Rangers aren't planning to send Rheinecker back to Triple-A until this weekend as insurance in case Saturday's scheduled starter, Brandon McCarthy, or Sunday's starter, Padilla, encounters another physical problem.

What Do Quality Start mean?

Handed a 6-0 lead, stand-in starting pitcher John Rheinecker couldn't get out of the fourth inning. By the time the lefty departed, the Detroit Tigers already had the potential tying run on base.

Is that the Rangers' new definition of a "quality start?" Three shaky innings, 74 uneasy pitches, followed by a Ron Washington 911 call to the bullpen?

The relief crew saved the night Tuesday. Willie Eyre, Joaquin Benoit, Akinori Otsuka and Eric Gagné held the Tigers at bay for six innings, as the Rangers held on to win, 7-4.

But Rheinecker's limp outing underlined the night's abiding point, that it's the starting pitching that continues to define this team's horrible start.

It's the starting pitchers whose 6.64 ERA is the worst in the major leagues -- and close to being the worst in major league history. It's the starting pitchers who are burrowing the Rangers into what seems like a nightly hole.

True, the Rangers' hitting isn't exactly leaving the paying customers hyperventilating, either. But the Rangers' lineup started play Tuesday ranked sixth in the American League in runs scored and first in home runs. That should not translate to a 21-37 record.

It's the starting pitching, therefore, beyond all else, that has dragged this team to the bottom of the American League.

And unlike the everyday lineup, where outfielders Victor Diaz and Marlon Byrd have come up from the minors to contribute, the Rangers' starting rotation continues to fly along on a wing and a prayer.

Lots of prayers, probably, because jobs are at stake.

When the pitching goes sour, baseball protocol dictates that the first to go is the pitching coach. That fate befell, among many others, Dick Bosman in 2000, Larry Hardy in '01 and Oscar Acosta in '02.

Mark Connor is in his second season as the Rangers' pitching coach. His résumé and reputation, spanning more than 20 seasons, are solid. Last year's pitching staff allowed the fewest runs for the franchise since 1995.

With Game 5 tonight, Alfredsson is answering questions about his gutless stunt in Game 4

Well, forget about ordering that slab of Italian marble for the Daniel Alfredsson sculpture in front of Scotiabank Place.

After weeks, maybe months of adulation by fans and the media for leading the Ottawa Senators to what has turned into their greatest season ever, the team's captain is suddenly being painted as a villain again. But this time it doesn't have to do with his play (although if he doesn't pick it up tonight in Anaheim to help keep the Senators alive in the Stanley Cup final, that will likely become an issue, too, and so will the fact that he is not a Canadian-born NHL captain).

Mayor Alfie is back on the barbecue spit because many feel he did something that was out of character for a Swedish player. He's being accused of purposely beaning Anaheim Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer with a slapshot in Monday's game, during the dying seconds of the second period. Niedermayer wasn't injured by the shot, which was fired from about 25 feet away and bounced off the defenceman's pants. But like some of his teammates and coach, as well as media types and even Senators fans, Niedermayer was stoking the fire following the game, which the Ducks won 3-2, to take a 3-1 stranglehold in the series.

"You can probably figure out what I thought after it happened," Niedermayer said. "It doesn't do any good to talk about it. I wasn't happy."

Niedermayer also said he told his teammates before the start of the third period not to seek revenge for Alfredsson's lack of respect toward their dear old captain, but to stay focused on winning the game.

It's clear from video footage that Alfredsson could have tried for a shot on the Ducks net from the neutral zone as the clock was ticking down and the score tied 2-2. But instead, Alfredsson shifted his body toward Niedermayer and fired the puck in his direction, even though there was a lot of open ice at which to shoot. When the buzzer sounded, Alfredsson was accosted by a few angry Ducks, which drew in some Ottawa players and resulted in some fisticuffs - as well as a decent sucker punch by the take-no-guff Alfredsson on winger Travis Moen. Who got sent to the penalty box? Not Alfredsson, but teammate Mike Fisher and Anaheim's Samuel Pahlsson, both for roughing after the fact.

So, if he hadn't intended to use Niedermayer as a bull's-eye and possibly injure him, then what was that all about Alfredsson?

"I looked up at the clock and it had like six seconds left, and I wanted to get a last shot on goal," Alfredsson told reporters at Scotiabank Place following the game. "But the puck didn't go right and I tried to get it between my feet. Then I just shot it to get rid of it and it kind of hit him."

Said Alfredsson with a shrug: "I didn't want to hit him."

But no one seemed to believe him - even TSN/NBC hockey commentator Pierre McGuire, who reminded us on Tuesday that his love for all things Ottawa holds no bounds, especially for the city's hockey fans. From his vantage point at the game, McGuire knew Alfredsson was guilty as sin.

Tired Bit: Cowlishaw tackles the annual past-time – fixing the NHL

1: Put microphones on all coaches and captains for all games. One of the things that the millions of fans that flock to NASCAR races each year really enjoy is the ability to hear every word exchanged between Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his crew chief, Tony Eury Jr.

The scanner technology is there to let every fan in the seats eavesdrop on what's being said. We don't want lame interviews conducted by bench reporters. We want to hear the real thing, and if we're paying $100 a ticket, we deserve it.

2: Start the season a month later. The Stanley Cup Finals should be starting when the NBA Finals are ending. For two weeks, you get the closest thing you're ever going to get to undivided attention.

The technology is good enough to make ice playable in late June. Starting the season a month before the NBA in the heart of college and pro football season does nothing for the NHL.

3: Convince the selfish Eastern Conference general managers to act in the best interests of the game and change the schedule. This was voted on and rejected a few months ago. But Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, moving into the prime of what's going to be a fantastic career, needs to play a game in Dallas and Los Angeles and Chicago every year. Not once every three years.

4: Kiss up to ESPN. Make amends. There's still enough room for programming at the world-wide leader to get your games back there. Versus gives the NHL no presence at all. The studio show has Bill Clement, a great analyst, in the misguided role of host.

Get back to ESPN – even if it's ESPN2 – and get your highlights back on SportsCenter.

5: Let the skaters in shootouts go without their helmets. In the Sixties and Seventies, we could easily identify Bobby Hull, Jean Beliveau, the flowing locks of Guy LaFleur.

Then safety reared its ugly head, and now we have no idea what these players look like. Most of the regular-season highlights we see of the NHL are from shootouts. Let's see the players. Women will like this one.

Is Paulie the rat?

The outcome of the Sopranos finale has to this point been kept tightly under wraps.

Most fans are asking the question: Whose the rat?

While many are speculating the "rat" (assuming there is one) would be Paulie
Walnuts, we say not so fast.

Tony Sirico, the Brooklyn born actor who plays Paulie Walnuts, lived a real life of crime back in the 1960's.

Before becoming an actor, Sirico was a feared shakedown artist who preyed on Manhattan nightclubs and who once gave this description of his own extortion technique: "You hit them over the head with a baseball bat, and they come around." After a dispute with a disco owner, Sirico once warned, "I'm going to come back here and carve my initials in your forehead. You better learn a lesson, you better show me the respect I deserve." A Bellevue Hospital psychiatric report from that period concluded that Sirico suffered from a "character disorder."

He spent a total of 20 months in jails like the famed Sing Sing for holding up a number of night clubs in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While in prison, he became interested in acting from watching a theater group that came to perform.

The so-called politically "far-to-the-right" Sirico, whose brother by the way is a priest, informed producers early on that he would only take the role if promised his character never turned "rat". Apparently there is a clause in his contract that stipulates this.

Sirico is someone we can see requiring such a stipulation. He's every much the fun-loving character portrayed on The Sopranos. We recount a time when he was playing in the Intercontinental Casino in San Juan, Puerto Rico and a patron was on the phone with her mom (a huge Paulie Walnuts fan) saying how he was there playing. Sirico then grabbed the phone and started talking to the woman's mom. He is also beloved by friends and family in his Bensonhurst, Brooklyn neighborhood. We can't see Paulie betraying them.

Sheffield meant nothing derogatory?…Don Imus told me the same thing…

Detroit Tigers star Gary Sheffield insists he meant "nothing derogatory" toward Latin players when he said Major League Baseball found it easier to "control them" than blacks.

However, teammate Carlos Guillen said he was happy Sheffield said what he said.
"I'm happy he said it," Guillen told The Detroit Free Press on Tuesday. "I'm glad somebody spoke up."

Sheffield said he was surprised his comments in the current issue of GQ magazine created such a stir. The slugger said he merely answered a question about why there were so many Latin players, as opposed to blacks.

"I said this a long time ago, this is a baseball issue. If they want to change it, they can change it," Sheffield said before Tuesday night's game at Texas.

"When you see a black face on TV and they start talking, English comes out. That's what I said. I ain't taking a shot at them or nothing. I'm just telling it like it is," he said.

Guillen told The Free Press that Sheffield's words to GQ rung true with his own experience as a young Latin player trying to break into the big leagues.

"In my first year, in rookie league, I hurt my elbow and I played DH," he told the newspaper. "In my first at-bat, I hit a double, and I missed first base. I was out, and they screamed at me."

"I didn't know what to say. If I had said anything, they would have sent me home. I was afraid to talk.

"That happens to every Latin player. They are afraid to talk."

Fans gone Wild in Sweden-Denmark

Don Cherry from Game 4

Fiona Across the Universe


CFB123 said...

Alfredsson is a gutless punk and what he did in Game 4 was absolutely inexcusable. Hopefully Anaheim will skate the Cup tonight.

As for Sheffield, the media may be too chicken s--t to come right out and say it, but he is a racist, plain and simple.

andrew said...

What's up with the Fiona vid?

Trying to suggest what ought to happen to the Ranger's offices and clubhouse?