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Posted on: June 4, 2008 1:41 am

Cubs need relief -- even in winning streak

Cubs fans, manager Lou Piniella stepped into your shoes for a few minutes before his team drilled San Diego 9-6 on Tuesday night.

Yes, riding an eight-game winning streak -- nine now -- and proud owner of the best record in the majors, Piniella nevertheless took a few minutes to look at the glass as half empty.

Hey, it's his job.

You think major-league managers can relax even if their club has held the lead in 25 consecutive games (and counting)? It's the Cubs' longest such streak since 1935. Yet. ...

"We've had a good problem here -- we've led 24 games in a row," Piniella said a few hours before the streak reached 25. "Which dictates that you're in the ballgame, and when you're in the ballgame, you have to use your better pitchers.

"That's what we've done, but there comes a time and a place where you have to back off a little bit, too. And we're about there."

It may sound silly, but sometimes, for the greater good of the long term, it's better if managers don't do everything they can to win in the short term.

Piniella was looking at that exact scenario Tuesday when he declared set-up man Carlos Marmol would not be used, even if the situation called for it. Marmol had pitched three times in four days, and four times over the past five days.

Marmol and closer Kerry Wood each had worked in 30 games, tied with two others for third in the NL.

As Piniella noted, "Look, it's a good problem to have when you're winning, but when you're winning you're using your best pitchers more."

Situations also are conspiring to tempt Piniella and pitching coach Larry Rothschild to lean hard on their key pitchers -- too hard, Piniella worries. Eight of the Cubs' past nine games had been decided by two or fewer runs and dating back to May 17, 13 of their past 16 games had been decided by the same slim margin.

And, Tuesday's 9-3 lead melted to 9-6 with Padres on base in the late innings. Though Piniella stayed true to his word to avoid Marmol, he did summon Howry and, to close, Wood -- for his 31st appearance.

Though the Cubs owned the best record in baseball, their starting rotation -- currently Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis and Sean Gallagher -- ranked only seventh in the NL in innings pitched.

"Our starting staff is not what you would classify as an innings' staff," said Piniella, whose club had recalled right-hander Kevin Hart from Triple-A Iowa earlier in the day to add another arm to the bullpen. "That's why I like the idea of young kids with strong arms coming up here to help out."

Because as Piniella said, "I just can't try to sneak an extra inning (regularly) from my starters. I just can't. I've got to keep them going out there every five days."

After Jason Marquis went five innings -- and he needed 100 pitches to do that -- Piniella ripped through five different relievers trying to slam the door on the Padres. One of them was Michael Wuertz, whom the skipper had singled out before the game as one of the relievers outside of the Marmol-Bobby  Howry-Wood circle to step it up.

Wuertz, 1-1 with a 2.96 ERA, has walked 12 batters (against 16 strikeouts) in 28 innings.

"We need Wuertz to kick it in some," Piniella said. "The walks are starting to be a problem. He's certainly better than what he's pitched.

"We'd like to see him get better to where we can count on him for an inning or two."

In the midst of a nine-game winning streak, it doesn't seem like that big a deal.

Measured against all of those innings left to be pitched the rest of this season, it is a huge deal.

Posted on: June 2, 2008 9:26 pm

Will Joba Rule?

Maybe Joba Chamberlain steps into the New York Yankees rotation, solidifies it and it's the start of something great.

But as the Yanks pitch the Joba Rules overboard and Chamberlain makes his first start Tuesday night against Toronto, maybe it's not quite the no-brainer you think.

Here's the opinion of one opposing American League hitter, who asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, on the big move:

"I welcome it. I look forward to him starting. He throws 100 innings, he's going to lose two or three miles an hour from his fastball over the course of a season. And he throws 87 percent sliders -- his arm is going to fall off if he keeps doing that as a starter. I've never even seen his change-up.

"He won't be able to command his fastball as well as he does throwing more innings as a starter. I'm glad they're doing this. I really am. And it opens up the eighth inning (for opposing hitters), too."

Likes: Whatever happens, Joba Chamberlain-to-the-rotation will be must-watch pitching. ... John Smoltz coming back, and landing in Atlanta's bullpen. ... Milwaukee catcher Jason Kendall throwing out 16 of 37 baserunners so far this summer after nailing only 13 of 124 during his American League time in Oakland and Chicago. Testament to both the ability of Brewers pitchers to keep the running game in check and to bench coach Ted Simmons, who worked with Kendall this spring. ... Lou's Records in Encinitas, Calif. One of the last of the great independent record stores. ... The new Mudcrutch disc, Tom Petty's latest side project. It's a reunion of one of Petty's early Florida bands from years ago -- it also includes Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench -- and the disc is very good.

Dislikes: Rest well, Ellas Bates. The man better known as Bo Diddley passed away Monday.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Night was dark the sky was blue
"Down the alley we was swingin' through

"Lord, you shoulda heard just what I seen"

-- Bob Seger, Bo Diddley


Posted on: May 30, 2008 10:17 pm

And it isn't even a double-switch

You've probably noticed a new byline here on our baseball page at within the past couple of days, and if you haven't, allow me to introduce you.

He's Danny Knobler (uh, that's pronounced "know-blur", for all you wise guys who already tried out your one-liners on the message boards under his first column and blog), he's spent the past 18 years covering the Tigers and, before that, he was one of the great minds at Baseball America.

He knows baseball, knows people, and you're going to enjoy reading him. I've admired and respected his work since we first met way back in 1994, and it's going to be a pleasure to have him in our lineup.

He knows players, general managers, field managers, scouts ... shoot, Danny knows so many folks in the game, I bet he's on a first-name basis with the pigeon who interrupted Wednesday's White Sox-Cleveland series finale, swooping down in front of the pitcher's mound to pick up part of a hot dog that somehow landed there on a blustery day.

You're familiar with baseball's Holy Grail, the five-tool player? Danny's a five-tool guy himself:

1. He's got a true passion for and understanding of the game, and he's as comfortable crunching statistics as he is telling a funny story.

2. He not only translated Sparky Anderson into English, but made it make sense.

3. He even made the Tigers' 119-loss season in 2003 interesting. And he made readers feel like they were in the clubhouse as the Tigers' 2006 World Series season unfolded.

4. He's got the stamina of Cal Ripken Jr. How else do you explain the fact that he survived so many working hours inhaling the second-hand smoke in Jim Leyland's office over the past few years?

5. He knows Thai food ...  and Cajun food, and which joints serve the best barbecue and where to get a good hamburger at 2 a.m.

What does No. 5 have to do with baseball? Well, OK, not much. But my theory is, any guy who knows food is one valuable guy. Wherever you are, whatever your work.

Anyway, enough already. You can read Danny's farewell column from Motown here. And you can read his stuff going forward just a click or two from here.

Likes: That Jays pitcher Jesse Litsch (7-1, 3.18) once was a Tampa Bay bat boy. ... Chase Utley in Philadelphia's lineup. ... Talking baseball with Toronto skipper John Gibbons, who is far more mellow than the reputation he's developed. ... Saturdays. ... Ron Santo on Cubs radio broadcasts. Maybe I'm going soft, or maybe it's simply because he's such a nice man. Normally, I hate listening to homers and cheerleaders. But Santo's groans, exclamations, shrieks and moans are so genuine that instead of blanching, I simply worry that the poor man's heart is going to go out. He and Pat Hughes are good listening. ... The fact that you can pull into a Mexican joint on just about any block in Southern California and have a terrific lunch or dinner.

Dislikes: Veteran Padres scout Ken Bracey, one of the best in the business, suffering a heart attack. Good news is, he's hoping to be back to work within a week or two. Get well soon, Brace. ... Veteran Toronto Sun baseball writer Bob Elliott messing up his shoulder not too long ago. Hope you're able to lose that sling soon, Boxer.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now"

-- Bob Dylan, My Back Pages

Posted on: May 27, 2008 9:21 pm

So you think you might want to scout?

As things turn out, perhaps the imminent demise of being able to check even one bag without paying for it might not be the worst thing regarding air travel these days.

And as scouts criss-cross the country in preparation for next week's draft, here's Washington general manager Jim Bowden to tell you about it, speaking of joining some of his scouts on a recent trip:

"I went with them for two weeks, Mike Rizzo and I," Bowden told Washington reporters last week (Rizzo is an assistant general manager and one of the best scouts in the business. "You're up on an airplane to Nashville, Tenn., and all of a sudden you're in Ontario and then you're in Texas and then you're in South Carolina, Florida and that's all you do every day.

"And people fart on the airlines, and it's horrible. I had to call timeout on the second one because the stench was so bad that I couldn't take it. The stewardess was taking Lysol up and down. It was embarrassing. I called timeout and said, 'Look, go to the bathroom. There's no need for that.' How the scouts deal with the farting alone on these small planes on a daily basis, I don't get it. Have more respect for the person next to you! Stop farting!"

Likes: I'll be driving home this evening, not flying home.

Dislikes: Air travel.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Take a whiff on me, that ain't no rose!
"Roll up yer window and hold yer nose
"You don't have to look and you don't have to see
'Cause you can feel it in your olfactory"

-- Loudon Wainwright, Dead Skunk

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 23, 2008 11:01 pm

Did Dusty do The Bump?

Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker was steaming Friday afternoon after being socked with a two-game suspension and $1,500 fine for "bumping" umpire Eric Cooper a night earlier.

It was an animated argument, but Cooper's definition of "bumping" might be different from the average guy's. Replays barely showed a graze, if that. If Baker was deserving of a suspension, then Earl Weaver, Billy Martin and Lou Piniella -- among many, many other managers -- probably earned lifetime bans several times over.

At this rate, it won't be long until managers are required to wear priest collars and carry prayer books in the dugout. Two games? Really?

Baseball long ago went corporate, but the way Bob Watson is doling out punishments, the goal appears to make the game as antiseptic as possible.

The one-gamer handed to Yankees manager Joe Girardi for his dirt-kicking tantrum the other night was excessive, too.

As for Baker, he was expecting a fine for his ejection but was shocked at the suspension -- though Cooper did accuse Baker of bumping him during the argument.

"I didn't see it and I didn't feel it," said Baker, who was intending to watch Friday night's game in San Diego from the manager's office. "(Cooper) told me I sprayed him with dip, tobacco, and that I grazed him and made contact with him. I was trying everything I could not to make contact."

Baker said he didn't even bother watching the replays because he would "get mad all over again."

And let me tell you, it was an odd experience listening to Baker vent ... while bouncing son Darren, 9, on his lap.

When Baker acknowledged that he was " more pissed now than I was earlier today", Darren, with an actor's sense of timing, turned around and wrapped his dad in a big hug.

It was difficult not to laugh.

And definitely difficult not to chuckle at baseball's evolving code of conduct for managers.

Someone needs to give Watson some more things to do so he's got less time on his hands. Last time I saw discipline this over-the-top, it was from Sister Furmine and the other nuns in my Catholic elementary school. And I still shudder.

Best line of the afternoon came from Ken Griffey Jr., who had this to say when he learned that Baker was suspended: "Dusty just wanted to take his kid to Legoland."
Likes: Former outfielder Kevin Mitchell stopped by to say hello to Baker the other day, and among other things in the manager's office, it generated a conversation regarding the time the television show Silk Stalkings filmed a few scenes -- including one of Mitchell sliding into his pool -- at Mitchell's San Diego beach house. "Now I can't slide no more -- I've gotta crawl," quipped Mitchell, who isn't as big as you might suspect, or remember him being. ... Reds television broadcaster George Grande, one of the finest men in the business. ... Actual rain in San Diego. If only for a day. ... Arizona's Doug Davis winning his first start back after thyroid cancer surgery. Outstanding. ... Atlanta manager Bobby Cox signing a one-year extension to manage the Braves in 2009.

Dislikes: In case you missed it the other day, allow me to repeat: American Airlines now charging $15 for the first bag you check. Every time you step near an airport now, the airlines nickel and dime you. Two bucks for checking a bag curbside. Twenty-five or more bucks if you want to change from a middle seat to an aisle seat on Northwest. Gouge, gouge, gouge. Just like at the gas pump. Every time you wake up anymore, there's more bad economic news.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"A vial of hope and a vial of pain
"In the light they both looked the same
"Poured them out on into the world
"On every boy and every girl"

-- The Arcade Fire, Neon Bible

Posted on: May 22, 2008 11:51 pm

Let's go to the replay

The manager who had probably the most to gain last October if there had been instant replay likes the idea that baseball is considering ways to implement it -- but only if it's limited in scope.

San Diego's Bud Black, whose Padres lost a crushing one-game playoff in Colorado last Oct. 1 -- they still swear in San Diego that Matt Holliday never touched the plate on that slide home -- gives the idea a cautious yes.

"I think there is some merit to it," Black says. "There's some merit to reviewing boundary plays, absolutely. Balls on the wall, at the foul pole, possibly even balls over the bag.

"I don't know about on the bases quite yet. I think umpiring is a big part of the game. I think the human element is still attractive to this game."

I'm inclined to agree with Black. I've never been in favor of instant replay -- partly because I don't want to see the games slowed down anymore than they already are, and partly because I think the umpires hit on a far higher percentage of calls than they miss.

But the way some of these new ballparks are designed, with outfield walls breaking and jutting at funky angles, it's become extremely difficult to tell a home run from ball off of the wall. And while some umpires maybe don't hustle to get out there for a good look, it's an impossible task: Even the ones who do hustle don't possibly have enough time to get back to the wall for an up-close look.

No way, though, can there be full instant replay, or games will never finish. Can you imagine if every called strike is reviewed?

"Do you argue every play?" Black asks. "Do you throw a flag if you want a review? Do you lose an out if you ask for a review and you're wrong?

"There would have to be some strict structure."

No question.

Likes: Ken Griffey Jr. now at 598 home runs, closing in on becoming only the sixth big leaguer ever to reach the 600 mark. And almost certainly the first since Willie Mays to do it clean. ... Arizona's Doug Davis set to rejoin the Diamondbacks' rotation Friday night following thyroid cancer surgery earlier this season. ... The current GQ article on Journey looking to come back strong with a new lead singer. Leads me to wonder if Steven Perry's final public appearances will have been with the White Sox as they were winning the 2005 World Series to the theme song Don't Stop Believin'. ...

Dislikes: American Airlines now charging $15 for the first bag you check. Every time you step near an airport now, the airlines nickel and dime you. Two bucks for checking a bag curbside. Twenty-five or more bucks if you want to change from a middle seat to an aisle seat on Northwest. Gouge, gouge, gouge. Just like at the gas pump. Every time you wake up anymore, there's more bad economic news.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"There is no pain, you are receding
"A distant ship's smoke on the horizon
"You are only coming through in waves
"Your lips move, but I can't hear what you're sayin'"

-- Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb

Posted on: May 20, 2008 4:20 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2008 4:39 pm

I thought he HAD retired

Mike Piazza formally announced his retirement Tuesday. No farewell tour, no rocking chairs and no standing ovations.

Another character from baseball's Steroids Era just sort of quietly disappearing into the good night.

He finishes with 427 home runs (39th on baseball's all-time list); 1,335 RBI (80th); a .922 OPS (47th) and 12 All-Star appearances. No catcher in major-league history hit more homers than Piazza -- he passed Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk in 2004.

All of this, and yet I'm going to need every bit of his required five-year waiting period to wrestle with the question of whether I'm going to check his name when it appears on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Because nearly as surprising as his ascent from being a 62nd-round draft pick was the fact that his name did not appear in last winter's Mitchell Report.

Bulked up as he was during the peak of his career, Piazza did not pass the eye test in the late 1990s and early 2000s while clubbing 30-plus homers a season. And he did not pass the eye test again toward the end of his career when he mysteriously seemed to wither away.

Is it fair?

If Piazza never juiced then, hell, no.

But if those offensive numbers are artificially inflated, well, then, is THAT fair to all of the other players who did things the right way?

It's terrible that this is the prism through which we must view things today. But by irresponsibly opposing drug testing for years, Don Fehr and the players' union have brought this on themselves.

Likes: What a great story, Jon Lester throwing a no-hitter. ... That the only other no-hitter ever pitched against Kansas City was by none other than Nolan Ryan. ... The Cubs' Geovany Soto cracking an inside-the-park homer. That's the only play more exciting than a triple. ... This Los Angeles Times story on singer Sly Stone's interest in making a comeback. It contains one of the best quotes I've read anywhere all year. Context: A "golden moment" for Sly and the Family Stone was at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, during which the band performed the song Higher and a crowd of 400,000 sang the words back. Now, from the story, here's Sly: "Everybody I saw was full of peace, it was a spirit there that was just peaceful and cool. The thing I really remember is I went to whatever was the main street there and I got a bologna sandwich. And it was so hot. And I never open a sandwich to look what's going on, but somehow I thought that time that I would do that. Because it was hot and I didn't think bologna sandwiches were hot. And I opened it and there were people running across the meat. And, I thought, 'Whoa.'" ...

Dislikes: Don't want to hear any more about the umpires blowing Carlos Delgado home run call against the Yankees the other night. It was an 11-2 game. The Mets won. Because it was in New York, though, we're going to hear about it for weeks, and the periodic debate about instant replay will be going strong. ... Madonna's new disc, Hard Candy. Not that I'm a big Madonna fan to begin with, but I do enjoy all sorts of music and I like some of Madonna's earlier stuff -- Material Girl, Angel, whatever. But I picked up Hard Candy for my wife for Mother's Day, and most of it gives meaning to the word "monotony." It stinks.

"Into this life we're born
"Baby, sometimes we don't know why
"And time seems to go by so fast
"In the twinkling of an eye
"Let's enjoy it while we can
"Won't you help me sing my song
"From the dark end of the street
"To the bright side of the road"

-- Van Morrison, Bright Side of the Road

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 15, 2008 1:26 am

Lackey pitches like an Angel

Look out, the Los Angeles Angels just got stronger.

A lot stronger.

Maybe that sounds funny on a night that saw the Angels endure a 5-1 beating by the Chicago White Sox. But that's small picture stuff.

Big picture? Ace John Lackey, who finished third in last year's Cy Young voting and led the American League in ERA, stepped onto a big league field for the first time in 2008, and all he did was look like he hasn't missed a step.

Lackey slammed the door on the White Sox for seven innings, holding the Sox to one run and six hits.

He was dominant, retiring 10 consecutive Sox batters during one impressive stretch and holding Chicago to one hit from the second through the seventh.

He worked ahead, pumping first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 26 batters he faced -- including eight of his first 10.

He threw 99 pitches, 67 strikes, and basically looked like a Triple Crown thoroughbred out for a training jog. Of course, part of that may have to do with the fact that the White Sox rank 13th in the AL in batting average, seventh in runs and ninth in on-base percentage.

He was, quite simply, just as the Angels remembered him.

"It's good to have him back," said Jered Weaver, who took Lackey's opening day start and is 2-5 with a 4.86 ERA in nine starts. "We all work off of him, that's for sure."

"The challenge now for John is to maintain that from start to start," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

If you would have asked the Angels this spring whether they would have taken a 24-17 record and first place in the American League West in mid-May while playing without their top two starting pitchers, they may have strained their hamstrings leaping to say yes.

Yet, thanks in no small part to Joe Saunders (6-1) and Ervin Santana (6-0), there they were.

And who knows? Maybe this missed time will be beneficial down the stretch.

Lackey led the Angels with 224 innings pitched last season and, though he remained reasonably strong into the playoffs, he did get bounced around by Boston in his lone playoff start (four runs, nine hits in six innings).

Assuming he remains healthy the rest of the way, Lackey figures to clock in somewhere around 160 innings pitched by season's end. You figure that can only help come the stand-tall days of September and October (if the Angels advance to the postseason for the fourth time in five years).

"We'd rather have had him these last six weeks and take the chance that he wouldn't be fresher in October," Scioscia said. "If the benefit is that he'll be fresher, I don't see any silver lining."

Lackey won 19 games last season and Kelvim Escobar, who remains on the disabled list with shoulder issues, won 18. Escobar continues rehabbing at the Angels' spring training base in Tempe and the reports now are far more encouraging than they were this spring when the right-hander became so frustrated he said he thought he'd be out for the season.

Still, there is no timetable for when -- or if -- Escobar will return in 2008.

Likes: My pal Sam calling to tell me I overlooked a couple of key points in my rave about the burgers at Miller's Bar in Dearborn, Mich., in the Bull Pennings post from the other day. In addition to everything else I said, two other cool things about Miller's: There are only four things on the menu -- hamburger, cheeseburger, onion rings and fries. And, it's all on the honor system -- when you finish eating and drinking, you simply walk up to the bar and tell them what you had. Sam, who has spent a few evenings in Miller's in his life, has very good input -- these are two more endearing aspects to the joint. ... Angel Stadium. The remodel they did several years ago was terrific, and they keep it in great shape. ... The Marlins and the Rays, what fun we're having now, eh? ... The Sunday New York Times.

Dislikes: Gas prices. Nice summer we're about to have.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"She is beautiful, she is small
"She don't wanna play basketball
"There's no tellin' what she might do
"Before her doin' days are through
"But right now she can't even crawl"

-- John Hiatt, Georgia Rae


The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or