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Weekly Pepper - Week 24

by Gregory Pratt, BaseballEvolution.com
September 16, 2008

Other Weekly Peppers:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25

Gregory Pratt spent the weekend in Philadelphia and New York City and caught games at Citizen's Bank Ballpark and Yankee Stadium. He thanks the Chancey family for their hospitality and will be writing about the games soon.

Zambrano-no -- Full disclosure: this headline is from a teaser on the front page of a Chicago newspaper. That said, I've always considered Carlos Zambrano a fun guy to watch and I enjoy rooting for him because he is passionate and talented and crazy as all hell, but I have never bought into him as a legitimate ace starting pitcher. He walks too many hitters for my taste and a quick look through the league shows him to be clearly inferior to many of the very best pitchers in his league. Off the top of my head I count Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Cole Hamels, Tim Lincecum, Chad Billingsley, Roy Oswalt, Ben Sheets, and Tim Hudson (though he's out with injury) as better pitchers, so I consider Zambrano to be the best of a second-tier of pitchers which includes guys like Aaron Harang, Matt Cain, Aaron Cook, and Jeff Francis. Sunday night, however, he was world-class, as he threw the league's second no-hitter this season against the Houston Astros of Milwaukee. Congratulations!

Wagner the Dog: Redux -- I sat right behind home plate in the upper deck at Citizen's Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia with an IRS agent on Sunday, and we talked about everything from his job to my studies to his watching Richie Ashburn in childhood. At one point, we got around to the subject of Billy Wagner, who talked his way out of town in Philadelphia, and the man told me a story about how Wagner complained that fans would boo him for not throwing 100 MPH. "It was a joke!" he protested in defense of Philly fans, and I laughed. I know Wagner's always gotten into trouble for being candid, but I appreciate his forwardness, as I've written before. Well, anyway, he's out with an arm injury now and will require Tommy John surgery. Wagner has said that he has thrown his last pitch as a Met, citing inside information, and I'm sorry to see it. What fascinates me about him, however, is that he has promised to come back and pitch in the major leagues again.  This is not remarkable in and of itself, but Wagner is a man who works hard and deserves all the respect in the world for going out there and doing his job year in and year out. I hope he makes it back at his high level, and I have no doubt that he will... Did you know this: "As a youth, Wagner was a natural right-handed pitcher, but after breaking his throwing arm twice, he taught himself how to use his left arm by throwing nothing but fastballs against a barn wall." That's why I say God bless Billy Wagner.

Konerko -- Paul Konerko sprained his knee last week when he mis-stepped during a rundown, and it appeared to be as serious as Jose Contreras' injury several weeks ago, in terms of both his personal health and  ruining the team's post-season chances.  Konerko had been the White Sox' best hitter since the start of August and was especially valuable in light of Carlos Quentin's broken wrist. Well, he looks like he's going to be back Tuesday, which is good for him and the team he serves.

Homefield Advantages -- You know, we talk about Texas and the inflationary effect it has on players' offensive numbers, but it can't be fun to play baseball in the heat at the stadium during the summer, especially since it's got high walls all along the sides which keep the breeze out. I, truthfully, don't think that the Ballpark in Arlington ought to be allowed to exist as it stands now, because it is brutal for the fans and the players and pitchers. Houston has a retractable roof with good reason and Texas should be forced to adopt it. On a related note, I don't think Major League Baseball should have sent the Astros and the Cubs to Milwaukee to play out their series in light of Hurricane Ike hitting Houston. It's unfair to the Astros to be sent to an away ballpark for a home game that will clearly be filled with their opponents' fans, which is exactly what happened. If I were the Commissioner, I'd have sent them to a small town with a minor league ballpark in the plains states and had them play with all tickets going to charity and memories being given to people who might never otherwise get the chance to watch a major league game.

Good Graces -- When I met Black Jack McDowell this summer, we talked about a variety of things that didn't make it into the article for various reasons. One of them concerned Joe Maddon, whom he called one of the funniest guys he's ever met when they were teammates on the Angels. I thought of what Jack said to me about Maddon this week after a Disney movie-like moment in a Red Sox-Rays game last Wednesday. From this article: "Dan Johnson woke up in Pennsylvania in triple A on Tuesday. He'll go to bed in New York on Thursday as a member of the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays. Johnson, scratched from the lineup because he didn't get into town until just before the first pitch, hit a tying pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning off Jonathan Papelbon, Dioner Navarro doubled in the go-ahead run, and the Rays beat Boston, 5-4, to extend their division lead." I saw an interview with Maddon about that homerun in which he spoke about how magical that night was.  He mused about modernity making it all possible: "[Looks like we're in trouble and then Johnson] arrives with the good graces of modern technology and US Air."

Huffing and Puffing -- I looked up this week and noticed that Aubrey Huff was hitting .314/.370/.575 with 31 homeruns, 104 RBI and 94 runs scored. How does a guy have such a great year after years of being decent but nothing to write a Pepper about? I guess he woke up at some point last offseason and decided it was time to party like it's 2003. Good for him.

Did You Realize? -- From this website: "Mike Gonzalez blew his first save in 40 chances since June 25, 2004 by giving up a run Tuesday against the Rockies. Gonzalez had gone 183 appearances, most of them as a closer or a top setup man, without blowing a lead. In some ways, the streak was more impressive than Eric Gagne's. It never got any attention, because he only has had one year of more than 10 saves and he missed a full season due to Tommy John surgery. Still, 183 appearances without blowing a lead is flat out incredible."

Did You Realize? II -- The Houston Astros are two-and-a-half games back in the Wild Card standings. I mocked Ed Wade earlier this summer for making a trade to acquire Randy Wolf for his rotation because I thought it was absurd for him to even consider making it to the playoffs with that team.  Now they have a decent chance and have, at least, made a helluva run. I don't take back what I've said about them before, however.  They have a bad rotation, and that is what will keep them out of the playoffs this year. The Michael Bourn for Brad Lidge trade might be the worst since the Giants traded Francisco Liriano, Koe Nathan and Boof Bonser to Minnesota for A.J. Pierzynski. That said, Roy Oswalt threw a complete game while facing the minimum last Wednesday (he erased all three hits he allowed with double play balls) and made a hilarious joke: "I was trying to make it as quick as possible so I could get home. Somebody said there was a hurricane on the way, so I was trying to be as quick as possible." There's a part of me that wants the Astros to make the playoffs just so Oswalt can continue his recent dominance, but I really like the Brewers and the Phillies.

Burnt Yost --
Ned Yost finally lost his job yesterday. I've long considered him one of the worst managers in the game.  His handling of his bullpen last year was atrocious, and it's remained so. I got to witness his mediocrity in person in Philadelphia Sunday afternoon as Shane Victorino reached base to start the bottom of the eighth inning and Yost brought in a lefty to face Utley, who sacrificed the runner over to second. The pitcher intentionally walked Ryan Howard and was then allowed to pitch to Pat Burrell, who singled in the go-ahead and ultimate winning run. Yost then made a change and called for Eric Gagne, who is still "Game Over" Gagne, but in different ways than he was in 2002. That game didn't end well for the Brewers. Hopefully, Yost's replacement, Dale Sveum, can lead that team to the postseason. It would be a shame if C.C. Sabathia's Herculean effort went wasted for the Brewers.

History of the Week -- Immediately upon hearing of Yost's firing I wondered whether or not any teams had ever fired someone so late in a pennant race that they were involved with and a friend of mine fortunately posted the following online: "There are two examples of such a firing working out. One is when the 1983 Phillies firing Pat Corrales when the team was in first place, and replacing him with Paul Owens. The other was when the 1981 Yankees fired the unstable Billy Martin (who had worn out his welcome) and replaced him with Bob Lemon, who took the team through an extra round of playoffs to the WS (which they lost) after Gene Michael had led the Yankees to qualify for a playoff spot by their performance in the 1st half of the season. If there are other examples of firing a manager in the middle of the pennant race when that team was in a commanding position for the postseason, I cannot think of any. I can't believe that this is going to work out for the Brew Crew, but maybe I'm missing something." It's unorthodox for a team to fire their manage so late in the season, but Yost was done a long time ago.


Gregory Pratt is a political science and history double-major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His political commentary can be found at the Office of the Independent Blogger, and he can be reached at gregory@baseballevolution.com.

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