I'm not sayin' I was far away from baseball when I was down in West Virginia over the weekend, but I will say the best entertainment I got was when my brother-in-law came over to the house and taught my kids how to make bug kites. What's that? You've never made a bug kite? Well, then, you ain't lived. Instructions:
1. Find a Junebug. If you're having trouble, go down to my mother-in-law's place. They're everywhere.
2. Tie some string onto the leg of the Junebug. This is hard. My brother-in-law is real good at it, though.
3. Hold string, let Junebug fly around.
That's pretty much it. ShysterDaughter and ShysterBoy thought that this was the greatest thing in the history of things.
The point of all of that is to say that when I sat down to write this, I had no idea what had happened in baseball since Thursday night, so if I missed something major in these recaps, by all means, let me know.
Dodgers 9, Diamondbacks 3: Manny went 8-13 with 5 RBI in his first weekend in Los Angeles, and the Dodgers won two of the three games after the trade. Hey, that's great. What's not so great? The fact that Torre decided that the guy to lose playing time in that outfield logjam is Andre Eithierwho had a single at bat in the whole series while Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre combined for 17 ineffective ones. Does Torre really think that Pierre and Jones are better options than Eithier in the lineup? If he does, he's wrong.
Cubs 8, Pirates 5: Some strangeness as Carlos Zambrano was lifted early -- he threw only 82 pitches over five innings -- because Piniella wanted to lighten his load following a couple of longish outings. It worked for a couple of innings until the bullpen coughed up the lead, but the Cubs obviously prevailed. It may not have made any difference because Zambrano may have been gone by then anyway, but I don't like the move. Why? Because I think Zambrano is one of the 60s guys. By that I mean one of those guys who, were he to have pitched in the 1960s, would have gladly thrown his 275 innings and been more or less fine.
This doesn't mean I'm all for abusing arms. Quite the contrary. I think you have to be really careful with guys for most of their development. But those guys who used to throw 275-300 innings a while back weren't freaks of nature. They were simply the ones who could handle it. The problem back then was that so many couldn't handle it that their arms were blown out before you could figure out if they were ever going to be worth a damn. There weren't as many teams and roster spots then, so you could do brutal things like that and it wouldn't matter as much.
There's no reason to think that there aren't a handful of guys who could handle that kind of workload today, but you don't want to blow out ten arms to find the one who can take that kind of work. But if you could figure out who could do it without killing the careers of 5-10 other prospects, wouldn't you want to? Wouldn't you want to give 70-80 more innings to an ace or at least a workhorse than to a fifth starter? I suppose it's too much to ask that the Cubs experiment with what could be their best chance at a championship in a century to test my theory on Zambrano, but someone somewhere probably should, because if you can figure out who on a staff can be a 1960s-style uber-workhorse, you could really give your team a leg up.
Nationals 4, Reds 2: This passage from the game story made me laugh: "The Reds lost for the eighth time in nine games and fell to a season-worst 10 games under .500, having failed to gain any noticeable edge from a 20-minute players-only meeting prior to batting practice." I'm not suggesting that trading away Ken Griffey makes any difference for this team from a competitive point of view, but who other than Griffey leads a players-only meeting for the Reds? Hell, Griffey was the only guy on that team who you'd even allow at the grownup table for Thanksgiving dinner. There's no one on that roster possessing the gravitas to lead a classroom full of preschoolers to potty time let alone lead a team to victory, so what on Earth did they talk about in that meeting?
Padres 4, Giants 1: The season is utterly lost in San Diego, so if they want to do anything other than play out the string in a meaningless fashion, they can concentrate on making damn sure that Greg Maddux gets the three more wins he'll need to pass Clemens on the all time list. History will remember them well for such a deed.
Twins 6, Indians 2: Francisco Liriano is finally a free man, and he rewards the Twins for their belated decision to promote him.
Royals 14, White Sox 3: An ugly loss marred by a mound charge and some pushing and shoving sends the White Sox into second place for the first time in over two months.
Astros 4, Mets 0: Randy Wolf puts up five scoreless innings, which is exactly why a team rolling to the playoffs like Houston is picks him up for the stretch run. [snicker]. I'm sorry, I am simply not willing to take this Astros-as-contenders thing seriously, and that stands no matter how many veteran acquisitions they make. Call me when they're within a game or two of the second place team and we'll talk, but until then, forget it.
Rays 6, Tigers 5: Fernando Rodney walks in the winning run. Good thing Todd Jones is hurt, or else the decision to demote him in favor of Rodney -- who has blown four of his five save opportunities -- would be awkward.
Braves 5, Brewers 0: In 1988 Atlanta was on its way to losing 106 games, and that was too much for even Braves fans to bear. Braves' Brass felt that they needed to do something, so they brought in a guy from the Mexican League named German Jimenez, hoping he would make a difference. Jimenez was a fat soft tosser for whom it was apparent, oh, about seven pitches into his Braves career that he had no business on a Major League roster. Skip Caray drank the Kool Aid for all of five minutes before turning on the guy I came to call El Nada Grande, openly opining that no one in the front office had a clue. I bring this up only to note just how utterly screwed Atlanta would be without another Mexican League import -- Jorge Campillo -- this season. Campillo has been brilliant when not fighting with pesky blisters, and he's finally changing my impression of the Mexican Leagues for the better some 20 years after Jimenez initially sullied it.
Red Sox 5, A's 2 roster who looks like they might foment it. I say it because the : A businesslike three game sweep of the A's, and a respectable start by new acquisition Jason Bay has the Red Sox talking about a relaxed approach and a new attitude and all of that. But tell me, am I the only one who thinks it will be back to strife, drama, and dysfunction the minute they hit a mild skid? I don't say this because I see anyone on the SoxSox have become such a closely-watched phenomenon in the past few years that they're starting to experience what the Yankees have experienced for so long, and that's bored beat reporters. Guys so used to feeding the insatiable maw of Red Sox demand that they're compelled to play up the smallest bit of information into "story lines" that take on lives of their own. Whose DL stint will spur suspicion of malingering? Whose innocuous comment will be misconstrued into controversy? It's going to happen. It's inevitable. And when it does, will anyone think to get a microphone in front of Manny Ramirez's face to ask him what he thinks about it all?
Yankees 14, Angels 9: This one was a thumpin', but the rest of the AL should take notice that the Angels just took 5 of 7 on the road from the Sox and Yankees, and they have two months of basically zero-stress ahead of them to prepare for the playoffs.
Rockies 3, Marlins 2: Florida can be excused if they were looking ahead during this contest, because as the bulldog goes to press, they are a half game ahead of the Mets and two and a half behind the Phillies, with both of those teams on deck this week. While I suppose it's possible that these three teams will spend August and September beating each others' brains out in a round robin of ineptitude, I think it's more likely that one of them will fade, and the Marlins are my candidate.
Rangers 8, Blue Jays 4: Gerald Laird goes 2-4 with a couple of homers and 4 RBI to lead the charge for Texas. You know, people always talk about the winners and losers of the trade deadline in terms of what teams made good trades and what teams made bad trades, but I didn't read anyone who took the Rangers to task for failing to leverage their catching surplus into anything they could use more.
Phillies 5, Cardinals 4: I still tend to talk about the Cardinals as a contender because they've been contenders for most of my baseball-watching life. But at some point even apologists like me are going to have to accept the fact that they don't have the bullpen of a contender, and winnable games like this one are going to slip through their fingers all season because of it.
Mariners 8, Orioles 4: The All-Star break is the traditional, well, break in every baseball season, but in this day and age it feels like an unnatural break. It's the non-waiver trade deadline that seems like the natural line of demarcation, as the teams who are buying buy, the teams who are selling sell, and things move on in a much more decisive fashion when it's all over. There's no more pretending after the trading deadline, as the teams who unloaded talent can simply ease into playing out the string. Neither Seattle nor Baltimore sold off anything -- they didn't have much to sell -- but this is certainly a series that embodies that post-deadline feeling. J.J. Putz gets a win, and that's great. Cabrera showed some momentary flash, but ultimately turned in the kind of bad games he turns in all too often. Can't get worked up too much either way.
The thing is, I love it when baseball gets to this point because you can enjoy these kinds of games for their own sake. Nothing these two teams are going to do from here on out is going to matter much, and that's great, because over the next month or two, most of the rest of baseball will morph into a quasi-football state in which individual games will matter an awful lot, players will talk about silly things like "making statements," and commentators will analyze everything to the nth degree. If I were in Baltimore or Seattle, however, I could get great tickets no matter what and just enjoy some baseball that won't matter a hell of a lot by the time I wake up the next morning, and there's something very refreshing about that.