|Between the Foul Poles: Slumping Sluggers|
Written by Robert Democh (Contact & Archive) on June 26, 2009
The dramatic increase in reported UFO sightings in New York City have been positively identified as home run balls exiting the new Yankee Stadium.¬† The New York Yankees postulated their new park would play similarly to the old one, i.e., slightly favoring hitters.¬† The reality has been a ball yard more reminiscent of vintage Coors Field, and not surprisingly the Yanks lead the majors in home runs after finishing just ninth last year. ¬†Alex Rodriguez was mired in a 3-for-36 slump when the decision was made to sit him for two games last weekend.¬† Now controversy surrounds who made that call.¬† In comments to reporters, manager Joe Girardi characterized it as his decision.¬† However, other reports suggest GM Brian Cashman, after consulting with A-Rod (but not Girardi), issued the edict to his manager.¬† If the latter is true, it could spell curtains for Girardi.¬† Once a GM begins usurping a skipper's autonomy in allocating playing time, there's no turning back.¬† A-Rod will now be rested one game per week through the All-Star break in hopes he'll break out of one of the worst sustained slumps of his storied career.¬† Pitcher C.C. Sabathia departed Sunday's game with tightness in his left biceps.¬† He characterizes the condition as mild and fully expects to make his next start.¬† It was more sobering news, culminating a tough week for New York, which dropped five of six games to Washington and Florida.
At a time when the Seattle Mariners felt they were immersing themselves in the AL West race (their 35-34 record Sunday was their first foray above .500 since May 7), a rally killer intervened.¬† Outfielder Endy Chavez will miss the remainder of 2009 (and perhaps a chunk of the 2010 campaign) after suffering a debilitating knee injury.¬† The damage was extensive, as Chavez tore both his ACL and MCL following a collision with teammate Yuniesky Betancourt.¬† Chavez' value to the club was not always apparent in the box scores, but his exemplary defense and hard-nosed playing style are rare commodities in Seattle and will be greatly missed.¬† Ichiro Suzuki is back on familiar turf -- leading the AL in batting average at .358.¬† Suzuki (a two-time AL batting champion) collected his 1,900th career hit Sunday during his ninth ML season, leaving him with an outside chance of reaching 3,000 before hanging up his spikes.¬† Although the return of Ken Griffey Jr. has not produced the offensive bonanza some had hoped (a puny .219 with seven homers and 22 RBI), Junior's energy and enthusiasm have brightened the clubhouse atmosphere, with Suzuki in particular seeming more at ease around teammates.¬† Although third baseman Adrian Beltre is batting an Ichiro-like .329 during June, his dearth of home run power is troubling.¬† Beltre, who averaged 25 taters annually from 2006-2008, has but five this year.¬† The Mariners desperately need for him to reach the seats more often if they hope to remain in contention.
MLB should count itself fortunate to have Albert Pujols, a superstar not falling under serious suspicion of having used performance-enhancing drugs.¬† The St. Louis Cardinals can only marvel at the daily exploits of the greatest hitter of his generation.¬† It's easy to exhaust superlatives when describing Pujols's prowess.¬† The Hall-of-Famer in waiting leads the NL in runs, home runs and RBI.¬† His sustained excellence has kept the Cardinals competitive in the NL Central, where they currently enjoy a two game edge over Milwaukee.¬† The Cards rotation continues to bewilder beyond top guns Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.¬† Todd Wellemeyer long-term struggles to locate the strike zone have grown exasperating (he has a 6.83 ERA in his last 29 innings). However, he's not the only one giving rise to collective groans among the Cardinal faithful.¬† Joel Pineiro has but one victory in his last six starts and Kyle Lohse remains on the DL although he may return prior to the All-Star break. The holes in the starting rotation have taken a heavy toll. When allowing the opposition to draw first blood, the Cards are just 6-23 this season.
They aren't hearing footsteps yet, but the Los Angeles Dodgers are keeping tabs on the streaking division rival Colorado.¬† The Rockies made it 17 wins in their last 18 games Monday and will tussle with the Dodgers next week in Los Angeles. ¬†Meanwhile, Albuquerque, N.M., is abuzz about the appearance of Manny Ramirez with the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate there.¬† The Isotopes attracted a franchise record crowd Tuesday, most of them anxious to get a peek at the steroid tainted Ramirez.¬† ManRam broke his self-imposed silence, responding to general questions from reporters but refusing to discuss his alleged steroid use.¬† He is scheduled to appear in two more games for Albuquerque in preparation for his return to ML action July 3.¬† Although manager Joe Torre sounded eager to have Ramirez back in the lineup, the players haven't forgotten Manny's reluctance to come clean with them when his suspension was handed down.¬† It's unclear how warm a welcome they will extend upon Manny's return or what effect his combustible personality will have on team chemistry.
The list grows ever longer for the New York Mets, that of players residing on the DL.¬† Carlos Beltran became the latest casualty, finally succumbing Monday to a bone bruise that had grown progressively larger and more painful.¬†¬† That means three of the bellwethers of the Mets offense -- Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado and Beltran -- are all on the shelf.¬† Although his league-leading .349 BA is impressive, David Wright's 2009 power outage defies ready explanation.¬† Wright had averaged 29 homers each of the past four seasons but has just four round trippers this year.¬† Some theorize the cause is the cavernous dimensions of Citi Field, but that fails to account for Wright having recorded but one homer on the road.¬† The huge deal struck for closer Francisco Rodriguez in the off-season had an element of risk, as Frankie had seen his dominance decline.¬† In a season during which so much has gone wrong with the Mets bullpen, Rodriguez has been a savior.¬† Through Tuesday, K-Rod ranked second in NL saves with 19 with a 1.04 ERA and a stingy .154 BAA.¬† Things look a lot less rosy for shortstop Reyes.¬† His strained right hamstring has restricted him to walking on a treadmill and jogging in a pool.¬† Reyes remains hesitant to test the leg with outdoor running, leaving it difficult to assess how soon he could return.
The Weekender:¬† Here are some intriguing pairings this coming weekend (June 26-28).
Cubs at White Sox:¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† The Battle for Chicago resumes on the south side of town.