---Remember when I said that Game One suspension hurt the Tigers? Never mind. The Tigers survived the Bronx downpours for a huge 5-3 win in Game Two. And ponder this one: If Justin Verlander beats CC Sabathia tonight at 8:30 -- which I think he will do -- the Yankees' season will rest of the shabby, erratic arm of A.J. Burnett. Yeesh. Advantage, Tigers.
---Seemed like we should have just been able to cue up that Phillies-Brewers NLCS. The Diamondbacks and Cardinals have been outclassed. At least that's what I was thinking when the Phillies had a 4-0 lead last night and were heading to a 2-0 series lead of their own. And then Cliff Lee blew the lead and the Cardinals came back to win, 5-4. I still think the Phillies win the series but it's a lot dicier now with the next two in St. Loo.
---No clue about the Rays and Rangers. Texas' 8-6 win Saturday broke the six-game losing streak home teams had in the division series between these clubs the last two years in the ALDS. Let's see what happens in today's key swing game with the series at 1-1.
While the Red Sox are going through the process of not renewing Terry Francona's contract today (e.g. he's getting fired), the real focus of the baseball world is the start of the postseason. The American League division series opens on two fronts with the Rays and Rangers meeting in Texas and the Yankees and Tigers meeting in the Bronx. That's Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia and that's must-see TV.
Right from the top, I'll put this out there: I got the Tigers and the Phillies in the World Series and I'm taking the Phillies in six. Sorry, Yankees fans. If Sabathia doesn't win tonight, I think it's possible the Tigers sweep the Bombers in three. And wouldn't that make for an interesting offseason. Remember, all division series games are on TBS.
So here's some quick analysis off the cuff. Hey, I gotta do Sunday's Inside Baseball column on the collapse of the Sox and Braves and I'm still working hockey previews too. Some multi-tasking. I give you some polls at the bottom too. Be sure and vote!
Tigers vs. Yankees -- I know all about the Bombers' offense but you have to like the Tigers' combination of Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer. You have to love closer Jose Valverde. Miguel Cabrera should get plenty of MVP looks. As for the Yankees, can you really count on Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia in this spot? Seriously? And does A-Rod show up in this series or bat eighth like he did in when he was humiliated in Game Four in Detroit in 2006. Tigers in four.
Rays vs. Rangers -- I'm tempted, very/very tempted, to pick the Rays to go to the World Series. Maybe I should. Now that they're actually in the postseason, they have the best starting pitching in the AL. I think they get through this series and avenge last year's division series loss but you wonder how much energy they have left after that crazy September. Rays in five.
Cardinals vs. Phillies -- I don't think a lot of analysis is needed. The Phillies' losing streak near the end of the season was rooted in injuries and boredom after clinching the division title. They're ready. Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt with Worley in the bullpen. Do they need a bullpen? This is one of Tony LaRussa's better managing jobs but this is a case of thanks for playing and please drive home safely. Phillies in three.
Diamondbacks vs. Brewers -- Who had this matchup in March? Thought so. In Kirk Gibson and Ron Roenicke, you have your two main candidates for NL manager of the year. Think the Yankees wish 20-game winner Ian Kennedy had found his game when he was with them until waiting to getting to Arizona? The Dbacks are a great story but the Brewers have the motivation of Prince Fielder's last season. They have an MVP in Ryan Braun, a great rotation, a supreme closer in former Canisius College pitcher John Axford. I think Brewers-Phillies could be a fabulous NLCS. Can't wait. Brewers in four.
If you missed my look forward to the second half of the MLB season in today's editions, here's the link to the story. It's pretty fascinating to see there is tremendous parity in baseball even when the public perception is otherwise. In the last six years, 11 different teams have made the World Series! Pretty amazing.
My choice for a newcomer this year to that group would be the Brewers, especially now that they've acquired Francisco Rodriguez. That said, my prediction would still remain what I called in March -- the Phillies and the Red Sox. It's going to be really hard to knock either of them off come October.
So based on what you've seen so far and what you think might happen the rest of the way, take our little poll to choose who will be in the Fall Classic.
TORONTO -- I'm on the scene at Rogers Centre for a game I've had circled in my mind for two years. It's the return of Roy Halladay to Toronto to meet the Blue Jays as the Phillies are in town for a 1:07 first pitch. This was, remember, supposed to happen last year but the teams' interleague series had to be moved to Philly because the G-20 Summit was in Toronto and the ballpark was within the security perimeter.
So MLB, in a wise move, granted the Jays' wish of a rematch series against the Phils. To top it off, they gave it to them on a holiday weekend. So more than 45,000 packed the park on Canada Day for yesterday's 7-6 Phillies win and a similar throng should be in the house today.
Halladay got a huge ovation (see the MLB.com video here) and doffed his cap as he took the lineup card to home plate yesterday. There was a video tribute and the whole thing was done at the Blue Jays' request. He should get plenty of rousing cheers again today. While many ex-Jays have heard it here when they returned, Halladay was a beloved figure and almost no one blamed him for asking out in 2009 to try to get on a winner.
Halladay went 21-10 for the Phillies last year and then, of course, threw his playoff no-hitter against the Reds. He's 10-3 with a 2.40 ERA this season.
In the National Post, Jays pitcher Ricky Romero said, "He was the face of this franchise for such a long time,” Romero said. “He deserved a standing ovation. But as of [Saturday] I think he’s our enemy."
In the Toronto Star, veteran columnist Richard Griffin tells fans they should definitely stand and cheer when Halladay takes the mound.
In the Toronto Sun, Hall of Famer-to-be Bob Elliott has a neat read on several folks earliest recollections of Halladay.
Cheap plug alert: Be sure to look for Sunday's Inside Baseball column for my thoughts on Joe Girardi. And be sure to keep tuned in to the blog starting Tuesday with my reports from the World Series. Of course, I have no idea where I will be because the NLCS is still not decided. Game Six is tonight in Philly with Roy Oswalt looking to get the Phillies even with the Giants. And if he does that, I'm thinking Philly completes the comeback.
On the managerial front, the Blue Jays are apparently close to naming Red Sox pitching coach and former Bisons pitcher John Farrell as their new manager. Great choice to work with all their young hurlers. From my dealings with Farrell as the Indians' farm director from 2001-2006, he has a keen eye for talent and how to connect with players. I always thought he had GM stock but he wanted to get back on the field and joined Terry Francona's staff in 2007, promptly winning a World Series.
Might be a chance for old friend Torey Lovullo to get a big-league job as well. You would think Farrell would consider him for the Toronto staff from their days with Cleveland.
The MLB regular season winds down today (maybe -- more on that in a second) and you needed to stay up until 1:22 this morning to be fully versed on what was at stake in today's games. That's the time the Red Sox wrapped up a 7-6, 10-inning win over the Yankees in the second game of a day-nighter that stretched nine hours and featured the teams splitting 10-inning decisions.
Meanwhile, the Rays posted a 4-0 win at Kansas City. So that means the Rays and Yankees are both 95-66 heading into today's finales (the Yankees are at Boston at 1:35 on YES while the Rays are at KC at 2:10). Tampa has the tiebreaker edge so a Rays win wraps up the AL East and sends the Yankees on to Minnesota as the wildcard for the division series. The Yankees can only win the division with a victory in Boston and a Tampa loss. Dustin Moseley -- yes, Dustin Moseley -- will start for the Yankees today.
There is no one-game playoff, remember, because both teams have already qualified. In that case, Tampa's 10-8 regular-season edge is used as the tiebreaker. That's not going to be the case in the National League as we could be looking at the first three-team, two-day tiebreaker in history.
If the Padres win today at San Francisco for the third straight day and the Braves beat the Phillies, we would have three teams (Atlanta, San Diego and San Francisco) tied at 91-71. So what would happen? The Padres and Giants would play for the NL West crown Monday in San Diego with the loser going to Atlanta Tuesday to determine the wildcard. Oddly enough, it might behoove the Phillies to lose today to potentially force the three-teamer and make all of their potential NL opponents run through some pitching before the division series starts.
Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman earned a slice of history last night by throwing the fastest recorded pitch in major-league history, a 105-mph heater -- yes, I said 105 mph -- in an eighth-inning at-bat against Tony Gwynn during the Reds' 4-3 loss at San Diego.
Here's the MLB.com highlights from Chapman's outing, including the 105-mph pitch. I love hearing the oohs and aahs in the crowd as each speed is posted on the left-field wall at Petco Park. The guy has thrown 74 of his 159 big-league pitches at or above 100 mph since being recalled from Louisville. Amazing.
Things are starting to sort themselves out in the National League races. The Phillies have won 11 straight after last night's 3-2 win over the Mets and their magic number is two to clinch the NL East. The Padres' win has them a half-game ahead of the fading Braves in the NL wild-card race. San Diego is a half-game behind San Francisco in the NL West after the Giants' 2-1 win at suddenly-fading Colorado. The Rockies have dropped five straight and are four out of the wild card with nine to play.
So much for the Yankees' 2 1/2-game lead in the AL East, huh? They've lost three straight, including Friday's 10-8 defeat to the Red Sox, and Tampa Bay has won three straight to go back up by a half-game. The Rangers, meanwhile, can clinch the AL West with a win today at Oakland.
---Who's the first person the Cubs have interviewed on the road to finding a replacement for Lou Piniella? According to ESPNChicago.com, it's none other than former Bisons/Indians manager Eric Wedge. Cubs GM Jim Hendry was a coach at Creighton University when Wedge was an All-American catcher at fellow Missouri Valley Conference school Wichita State in the late 1980s, so there's a lot of history there. I know this is one job Wedge has had his eye on this summer if it appeared Ryne Sandberg was not a slam-dunk choice.
---Talked to International League president Randy Mobley today and he points out the league often uses fill-in umpires at first base and home plate and there's no rule limiting them to just third base. Mobley himself makes the call whether a substitute stays locked at third or can move, as Buffalo's Wally Bissett did Wednesday night. Bissett landed at first base and twice drew the Bisons' ire in the 8-3 loss to Pawtucket.
Said Mobley: "We have a few umpires that we have labeled in each city that have agreed to be available to us Within that group, there is varying degrees of experience. Based on that degree, I'll make a judgment whether they go into the rotation [to work the plate and other bases] with the other umpires."
I think the fill-ins should be kept at third during August pennant race games but Mobley countered he views it no different than a game in April. He wouldn't put a sub ump at first or behind the plate in August if he wouldn't do it in April. Fair enough. We can disagree on that point.
---Mobley points out the IL has had just 24 postponements this year, compared to 57 by Aug. 26 of 2009. The Bisons, in fact, just played their first doubleheader of the season on Sunday. Been a great weather year for the league.
---Memo to the Phillies: It's the end of August. You've been to the World Series two straight years but you're not going back if you lose four straight at home to the Astros. What's up with that?
Another really interesting slate of interleague games set for this weekend and we've already had a big story develop as the White Sox rolled to their 10th straight win -- their longest run since 1976 -- with today's 6-0 whitewash over the Cubs. The South Siders scored four runs in the first off Carlos Zambrano, who might have pitched his last inning for the Cubs after blowing up in the dugout at teammate Derrek Lee.
---Roy Halladay pitches against his old team for the first time as the Phillies "travel" to their home park to meet the Blue Jays in the set moved from the Rogers Centre because of the G-20 summit. What a shame. Would have easily been a 40,000-plus crowd and an amazing scene tonight in Toronto.
---The Twins are at Citi Field to meet the Mets, with Johan Santana starting tomorrow. Ex-Bisons Jesus Feliciano, who went 3 for 5 last night, and Josh Thole are in tonight's lineup.
CLEVELAND -- Back in C-Town for the start of tonight's Indians-Mets series and here's a look at lots of other doings around the baseball world:
---Stephen Strasburg overpowered the Pirates and Indians, and overpowered the long-suffering Chicago Blackhawks to get on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated (left). Folks in Chicago got a local edition with the Hawks on the cover.
All Nationals fans, the few that were in existence a week ago and all the converts of the last seven days, can now hold their breath hoping nothing happens to him. He was also named NL Player of the Week and has singlehandedly made the Nats relevant. Not bad for a first week in the bigs.
---Huge series opening tonight in the Bronx as the Phillies and Yankees stage a World Series rematch with CC Sabathia meeting Roy Halladay. Let's see if any of the Phillies get plunked this week. The Yankees were furious that A-Rod got drilled three times last October, um, November (I'll never get used to that).
---Did you see what happened in San Diego last night during the opener of the Padres-Blue Jays series? Things came to a brief halt in the eighth inning when an earthquake shook Petco Park. You can hear the familiar voice of new Pads announcer Dick Enberg at the mic in this video clip. Oh my, indeed.
---As for the Mets, it will be Johan Santana on the mound tonight. He will be followed by Jon Niese, fresh off his 28-batter one-hitter against San Diego and by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey on Thursday night. Dickey, by the way, looks like he's sticking around so catcher Rod Barajas is getting a new glove to catch him after having a nightmarish day last time out in Baltimore using Dickey's special knuckleball glove.
The Mets are suddenly getting lots of help off the farm. Six of the 25 players on their current 25-man roster (Elmer Dessens, R.A. Dickey, Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, Chris Carter and Jesus Feliciano) opened the season in Buffalo. Of course, that's one reason the Bisons are slumping but it's hard to blame the parent club for dipping down when injuries and the craziness of Oliver Perez step to the fore.
CLEVELAND -- I'm on the way to Progressive Field to see the second big-league start of Stephen Strasburg's career. We'll have a full live blog here to keep you updated after things get underway around 1:05 (this post appears courtesy of our favorite tool, the advanced timer). The game has been added to the TBS schedule -- the network pushed off Red Sox-Phillies for Indians-Nationals!! -- but I harbor no guarantees it will be on in Buffalo.
Local blackouts are supposed to apply and that's usually trouble when it concerns the Indians. But non-DirecTV folks note that Tuesday's first Strasburg start against the Pirates was shown on MLB Network and there were blackout concerns about the Bucs on that one as well.
Strasburg, of course, has completely blown up in the wake of his 14-strikeout performance Tuesday against the Pirates. The Tribe should double its average crowd today by drawing in the 35,000 range. Comment was sought from experts and experienced eyes everywhere. MLB.com caught up with Indians Hall of Famer Bob Feller, who is a press box regular and should be in the house watching today.
Strasburg even read the Top Ten list on the Letterman show Thursday night. Jeez. And it's pretty darn funny too. Check it out below. And be sure to come back from today's live report from the latest Strasburgfest!
What in the world was in the water Saturday? We had sheer craziness around the big leagues. Check it out.
1). The Indians roared back from a pair of six-run deficits to beat the Yankees, 13-11, in a game marked by a scary scene as Cleveland pitcher and ex-Bison David Huff took an Alex Rodriguez line drive off the head. The ball ricocheted into right field as a horrified stadium full of fans watched. Huff was driven off in a cart to a hospital and actually returned to the park after the game following a negative CT-scan. Amazing.
Late Saturday night on his Twitter page, Huff thanked the teams' training staffs and doctors, the Yankees' security staff even A-Rod for calling.
3). Then we moved to night. While most everyone in Philadelphia was watching the Flyers game, Roy Halladay was working on history of his own. By the ninth inning,the TVs in the bars were being switched in time to see him complete the 20th perfect game in history, a 1-0 win over the Marlins. Here's MLB.com's recap. It's the first time since 1880 we've had two perfectos in the same season. Yes, 1880. One of them that year by Providence's John Ward was against the Buffalo Bisons!
Jerry Manuel's job status is suddenly quiet, the pitching is terrific and all is well in Mets land. That's what can happen when you go 5-1 against the Yankees and Phillies. The Mets' 3-0 win last night at Citi Field gave them their first shutout sweep of a three-game series since they blanked-blanked-blanked the Phils way back in 1969!
Crazy facts from the Post's Joel Sherman: Rod Barajas leads major league catchers with 10 homers. R.A. Dickey and Hisonari Takahashi won more games this week against Philly (2) than John Maine and Oliver Perez won overall (1) in 16 starts. At least the Mets fixed the Maine-Perez mistake before Memorial Day. Memo to the Mets: Stop trying to convince Ollie to come to Buffalo!
Former Bisons knuckleballer R.A. Dickey got his first win with the Mets Tuesday night, pitching six innings in an 8-0 whitewash of the Phillies. He even survived a rocket line drive off the bat of Ryan Howard that got him in the left (non-throwing) elbow. In this ESPNNY.com video, here's some of Dickey's postgame comments. The clip picks up with him talking about the sore elbow and includes his thoughts on a conversation he had with fellow knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who beat the Phils Sunday.
The injury-riddled Yankees and bedraggled Mets open a three-game series tonight in Citi Field in the marquee matchup of interleague play. Tonight's game features a brutal pitching matchup of Javier Vazquez and Hisanori Takahashi. But things get much better for the games Saturday night (Phil Hughes vs. Mike Pelfrey) and Sunday night on ESPN (CC Sabathia and Johan Santana).
The Jerry Manuel Watch certainly continues. A big blowup against the Yankees -- in their home park that's likely to be filled with Yankee fans -- would certainly hurt the Mets' skipper's case. And then there's three games coming with the Phillies too. The end might be near.
The Blue Jays always draw pretty well when the Yankees are in town but the big draw on their schedule was the June 25-27 series with the defending NL champion Phillies -- and a potential matchup with former ace Roy Halladay. The team budgeted ticket sales of 90,000 for the three games and probably would have gone over 100,000 if it turned out Halladay was pitching one of the three games.
The Blue Jays and MLB really had no other choice. The summit is at the Metro Convention Center, next door to Rogers Centre. Front Street, the main thoroughfare you walk or drive down to get to the Dome, is within the security perimeter and would be restricted to fans. It would be a traffic and pedestrian nightmare. And don't forget the scores of demonstrations likely to fill the streets and greet the world leaders attending.
It's Opening Day in lots of places today, including Progressive Field in Cleveland and the Rogers Centre in Toronto. Same for Wrigley Field, Citizens Bank Park, Busch Stadium, Petco Park and Safeco Field. Tomorrow, the Yankees get their World Series rings as they kick off year two in The House that George & Jeter built.
Park looks great. Sure looks like it might be cold come October and (gasp!) November. But we'll deal with that when we have to. Good for the folks in Minnesota to get a chance to finally be outside. Good riddance, Metrodome!
The spring training schedule opens today with the Braves and Mets at 1:10 from Port St. Lucie, Fla. Check it out on SNY beginning at 12:30 but be wary: Lots of Twitters on the Mets beat that it's raining hard down there. If they play, 2009 Bisons star Nelson Figueroa will throw the first pitch of the spring for the Mets.
(11:30 a.m. update: Looks like they'll play although Adam Rubin of the New York Daily News reports a very Bison-like lineup that includes possible 2010 Herdmen Jesus Feliciano, Mike Hessman, Ike Davis, Chris Coste, Jason Pridie and Luis Hernandez).
Now that the calendar has flipped to March -- and even though we have the NHL trade deadline staring us in the face tomorrow -- we'll be starting to crank up ye olde Inside Pitch blog as well. Mets/Bisons chatter, Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Blue Jays and whoever else meets our mind.
Today's game is the only one on the schedule matching two big-league teams. Action really heats up Wednesday (including the Yankees' opener in Tampa against the Pirates) and Thursday, when everyone plays and the schedule is highlighted by CC Sabathia starting against Roy Halladay in a Yankees-Phillies World Series redux in Clearwater. Wonder if any Phillies will go down as payback from some of the plunkings A-Rod took last October, er, November.
There are a lot of ways to look at this one. The Blue Jays had to make a deal with Halladay because he wasn't staying after next year. The Phillies must have felt likewise with Lee, who will be a free agent following the 2010 season. The Mariners feel Lee can help them make a quick strike in the AL West with a 1-2 punch of Felix Hernandez and Lee, and aren't worrying about 2011 just yet.
If everyone stays healthy, the Phillies are a heavy favorite to become the first NL team to go to three straight World Series since the Cardinals did it in the early 1940s. The Mariners quickly ascend to the top of the AL West, especially now that John Lackey has bolted the Angels for Boston.
And as for our poor friends in Toronto? That playoff drought that's 16 years old will certainly hit 17. And probably 18 and 19. Major rebuild job there and the Jays may, in fact, slip behind the Orioles into the AL East cellar. They have to hope their prospect haul matches what the Indians got for Bartolo Colon in 2002, a group that included Lee and helped the Tribe get with a game of the World Series in 2007.
Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has covered the Buffalo Bisons since 1992 and Major League Baseball since 1995. A member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Harrington has reported on more than 30 MLB postseason series — including every game of the World Series in this century — and all three of the Bisons' championship runs in their modern era. He is a connoisseur of the famous Stadium Mustard at Cleveland's Progressive Field.
Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered the Bisons for The Buffalo News since 2002. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.