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Orioles Sputter To The End of July As All Division Races Tighten

In this strange but always absorbing baseball season, it seems that uneasy lies the head of all division leaders. I follow the Orioles the most closely, of course, and their AL East lead is down to two games in the AILC . This stands for All-Important Lost Column meaning that a game lost can never be made up but a game not played could still be a win.

A three-game series in Toronto against the second place Blue Jays this weekend should clarify a few things. I am hoping that Chris Davis's bat awakens in his favorite ballpark the Rogers Centre (formerly known as the Skydome in Toronto's championship years of 1992-93.)

The Red Sox are on the road for two weeks and have lost some tough games recently. Yet they are only two back of the Birds in the AILC and the resurgent Yankees only six.

Leaders in baseball's other divisions are having hard times, too. In the AL West the Texas Rangers are having starting pitching woes and have lost slugger Prince Fielder for probably the rest of the season with recurring neck issues.

Last year's surprise team the Houston Astros is hot on the Rangers trail and they are eager to face Texas again after losing all but one of their first match ups this year. Don't count out the occasionally explosive Seattle Mariners who have their ace Felix Hernandez back from injury.

In the AL Central, Cleveland's 14-game winning streak opened a big lead but they are losing luster, obviously needing another bat in the lineup and some help in the bullpen. The Detroit Tigers are hanging in and like the Astros they hope to avenge a pounding by the Indians in their earlier games this year.

The chances for defending World Series champion Kansas City to repeat in AL Central look meager now. So too for the Mets in the NL East. The Nationals have ruled the roost for much of this year but are not invincible. Yet the Mets have fallen behind even the Miami Marlins in the race for the divisional crown.

Perhaps the biggest slump of division leaders is occurring in the NL West where the SF Giants are plummeting. Their defense and hitting looked very suspect when they lost the series at Yankee Stadium last weekend. It was nice though for an old New York Giant fan like myself to see such a spirited band of Giant fans hold their own cheering on the road.

Another thrilling pennant chase between the Giants and Dodgers looms. Only in the NL Central does the race seem over with the Cubs holding a commanding lead despite playing barely .500 ball since they raced out to a 25-6 start. The Pirates and now the onrushing Cardinals are still very alive in the wild card race.

Though I wish the season were shortened to 154 games or fewer, there is one great rule in effect. The team that wins the division title is assured at least one playoff series.
The two also-rans with the best records must play the Wild Card winner-take-all game.

So expect some dramatic baseball ahead. It's what we addicted fans live for.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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"Check Up From The Neck Up," "If You Hang It They'll Bang It," and Other Morsels Gleaned From Late Season Baseball Watching

It is no longer possible to turn down the sound on a disliked television broadcaster and choose a more informed radio voice. Too many digital delays and other technological innovations have ruined that alternative.

So this year I’ve been listening to TV with the sound on more often. I am glad to report that some of the ex-ballplayers as commentators have contributed some pithy observations. David Cone on a Yankee YES network broadcast the other day used a nifty phrase to describe the pitcher’s worst nightmare, the hanging breaking ball:
“If you hang it, they’ll bang it.”

And Tim McCarver on a recent Fox national broadcast of a Red Sox-Yankee game delivered this beaut about the purpose of catchers going out to the mound to give a break to a struggling pitcher: “It’s a check-up from the neck up.” You don’t talk mechanics in the heat of the game, McCarver advised.

In our age of overwhelming verbosity and even more overwhelming statistical information, it is nice to discover and applaud some terse analysis. It helps to be terse because there can also be “paralysis by analysis.”

AND NOW SOME PEEVES: One of my pet bugaboos is daily rankings of the 30 teams on innumerable websites. After all, what are league standings for but to indicate who is good and not so good?

Maybe more than most sports baseball is truly a game of inches, if not millimeters.
One case in point was the Tampa Bay Rays salvaging a game in a three-game series against the Red Sox in mid-September. The struggling Rays got the lead on a bloop double by
Will Myers that was inches fair down the right field line. In the top of the 9th with a runner on second Will Middlebrooks’ similar blow fell just inches foul and Fernando Rodney ultimately got him out and registered the save.

During their long losing streak, the reverse happened for the Rays. On this night though they caught the breaks and the Bosox didn't.

Streaks are something to watch carefully in baseball. Because for every action there is a reaction. Case in point for teams – The Los Angeles Dodgers 12 games under .500 before the start of summer went on an amazing roll to run away with the NL West this season. But on Friday the 13th of September they got crushed 19-3 by the arch-rival and defending world champion San Francisco Giants. The soon-to-be-dethroned Giants won 3 out of 4 in LA but if the Dodgers get back a healthy Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and Matt Kemp in the outfield they will be a tough matchup in the NL playoffs.

Here's a streak example for players: Bosox closer Koji Uehara had an amazing personal streak going, 37 batters in a row retired. That’s a perfect game plus 10 outs. For the sake of the Red Sox, I wrote a few days ago that they should hope that streak ends before the playoffs because baseball is a game of imperfections and the evil eye of the baseball gods might just have a fall ahead for Uehara. He is, though, a very likable Japanese import who never wanted to leave the Orioles but they traded him to the Texas Rangers for Tommy Hunter and the newest home run king Chris Davis. He wanted to return to the Orioles before this season but the Red Sox outbid them and made a great bargain pickup.

Bulletin: On Tuesday night Sept 17 Uehara’s streak of 37 batters in a row ended, four short of Bobby Jenks’ reliever’s record of 41 and Mark Buehrle’s all-time 45 in a row mark. It was former Red Sox utility player Danny Valencia who tripled in the 9th inning and scored the eventual winning run in the Birds’ 3-2 victory.
The streak is now no longer a topic of conversation and thus not a distraction.

The O’s still have a chance to make the playoffs but they must win the vast majority of their games now. Building the long winning streak that has eluded them all year is of the essence. Not likely but still doable and the reason one becomes a fan and a player.
TO PLAY MEANINGFUL GAMES IN SEPTEMBER.

That’s all for now. Back with a review of the regular season next time. For now - Remember always – Take it easy but take it.  Read More 
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