St. Louis manager Mike Matheny was slightly taken aback when I asked him, “Are the Cardinals the best team in baseball?”
“I would never be so arrogant as to say anything like that,” Matheny said Thursday, prior to the final game of a three-game interleague series with the Angels, which Los Angeles won dramatically on a two-run tying homer by Josh Hamilton and walkoff single by Erick Aybar.
After all, Matheny’s got the Pirates ahead of him in the National League Central, and in the American League, the Red Sox entered a weekend series with the Angels with the best record.
The Rangers and Athletics are good, as are the Orioles, Rays, Yankees, Indians, Braves, and Tigers.
“I don’t really measure emotion,” Matheny said. “I’m pleased with the way guys have competed regardless of the results, the way they don’t give away at-bats, love the way they always keep pushing, and they do the little things.”
But a Red Sox-Cardinals World Series (a repeat of 2004) would not be far-fetched as we enter the final week before the All-Star break.
The Cardinals are one of those tried-and-true teams. They have built predominantly with homegrown players, and they have all the elements a team needs need to win a championship — starting pitching, relievers, power, a balanced lineup, and a superstar in catcher Yadier Molina who brings the pitching staff and offense together.
“I think the way the team has been built is a source of pride,” Matheny said. “We’ve done some things well. We have some young players who have been able to come up and contribute and fit in and excel at this level, and that’s a tribute to a lot of other people in our organization other than me. The scouting department, farm organization. There’s a lot of rich tradition here, and the fact we’ve been able to do it the way we’ve done it is a tribute to everyone involved in the process. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to Boston with the rich tradition and doing things the right way.”
The Cardinals, like the Red Sox, Pirates, and others, aren’t without their flaws.
The Cardinals could probably use one more starting pitcher, and the hope is that veteran Chris Carpenter can make it back to fortify the rotation. But the Cardinals aren’t putting any pressure on Carpenter, allowing him to come back at his own pace and do as much as he can after complicated shoulder surgery, which may still end his career.
“We’re better when he’s around in any capacity,” Matheny said. “He’s throwing the ball pretty well, so it would be an extra bonus if he could find a way to be part of this club.”
“We have a great group of guys here. It’s a place focused on baseball and that’s what makes it exciting,” said Cardinals utilityman Ty Wigginton.
The Cardinals, like the Red Sox and Pirates, have good team chemistry.
“It’s pure baseball,” said Wigginton. “This team knows how to have a good time and have fun. It’s every single day in baseball, so you have to have some fun sprinkled in with the serious stuff.”
The Pirates have been performing extremely well even without righthander A.J. Burnett, who has been on the disabled list but is scheduled to start Sunday.
The Pirates could use a right fielder, but are trying to avoid dealing for one. Jose Tabata is getting the opportunity at present. The Pirates handed him a six-year, $15 million contract extension late in the 2011 season, hoping Tabata would become a star. Tabata is a former Yankees farmhand acquired by general manager Neal Huntington in 2008. Tabata, 24, was hitting .284 with two home runs in 38 games going into Friday’s game against the Cubs.
The Pirates have been trying to downplay what could be their first winning season since 1992, and first playoff appearance since Tim Wakefield and Barry Bonds were teammates.
Manager Clint Hurdle said back in spring training that the Pirates would have to win 95 games to make the playoffs. Through Thursday, the Pirates were 52-32, and needed to go 43-35 the rest of the way to get to 95 wins, and 31-47 to finish above .500.
“There’s a long way to go, a lot of baseball still to be played,” said center fielder Andrew McCutchen. “I’m not going to get too far ahead, but I will say that we’ve played a lot better to this point than we ever did the last two years. We have a better team and we should win games in the second half, too.”
The Red Sox, meanwhile, are waiting for Clay Buchholz to return from the DL. Heading into Friday, the Sox had their largest division lead of the season, 4½ games.
The one caveat is they are on their first West Coast swing, which can eat up AL East teams.
The Orioles went 7-4 against the Mariners, Angels, and Athletics.
The Yankees went 3-1 against the Mariners, 2-1 against the Rockies, and 1-5 against the Angels and Athletics.
The Rays have only gone West to face the Rockies, going 2-1.
The Red Sox would like to add a late-inning reliever, would look into a righthanded bat, and would look at a top starter (Cliff Lee, but not certain the Phillies are trading him; and not sure Matt Garza fits their needs, either).
Tough call is made on ump’s belongings
Artie Gore grew up in Belmont, also had roots in Lexington, and later lived in Wolfeboro, N.H., where he died Sept., 29, 1986.
One of his three surviving nephews, Richard Flaherty of Falls Church, Va., not long ago rummaged through his uncle’s belongings and found some interesting artifacts, including a baseball dated April 15, 1947.
That was the date of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut at Ebbets Field. It was also the day Gore, a respected umpire, made his major league debut. Gore umpired 1,464 games between 1947-56, as well as two World Series and two All-Star Games.
The ball and other items belonging to Gore will be auctioned off at this week’s All-Star FanFest at the Javits Center in New York.
As you dig more into Gore, who was also a minor league infielder with the Red Sox, you realize he was also a lifetime friend of Ted Williams. Gore also was umpiring the day Stan Musial made his only major league pitching appearance, and after baseball, he became a deputy sheriff in Middlesex County, once accompanying Albert DeSalvo, the confessed “Boston Strangler,” into court and sitting beside him.
“As a family, we agonized over the selling of the items,” said Flaherty. “There are three of us and it’s hard to split a ball. We decided to let it go and use the money for some college tuitions.”
He had befriended Williams years earlier because of his Red Sox ties, and Williams always respected him, once giving him a game jersey and bat, which will also be up for auction.
“It just seemed he knew everyone — mayors, governors,” said Flaherty. “I remember Ted offered condolences to my aunt upon Artie’s death. Just piecing it together, it seemed Artie and Ted had about a 40-year relationship. We came across a lot of things, including correspondences between he and Carlton Fisk, there were old lineup cards, and a signed ball by the 1953 Yankees World Series team that Artie worked at.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Totally agree with Jonathan Papelbon, Bruce Bochy, and Mike Scioscia, who are on record as saying Yasiel Puig does not belong in the All-Star Game. He hasn’t earned it. The sample size simply isn’t big enough. Tremendous player to watch, however. “He’s got these long arms where he can protect the outside of the plate and not have to crowd the plate,” said one National League scout. Is he Bo Jackson? “Not that good, but very athletic,” the scout said.
2. Great story Friday on Alex Rodriguez by Bob Nightengale of USA Today. It really humanizes Rodriguez and chronicles his determination to come back from a serious hip surgery, and the fact he’s won over his teammates again, especially Derek Jeter.
3. The Royals have been waiting for Eric Hosmer for a while. Looks like he arrived in June at the most opportune time.
4. Every week we’re getting glowing reports from scouts on Red Sox minor league third baseman Garin Cecchini, who is hitting .372 at Double A Portland. One scout said he watched Cecchini take 45 minutes of pregame fielding practice in 95 degree temperatures, then play the game. “There isn’t a fastball he can’t hit,” said the scout. “When he starts to get some loft in his swing, watch out.”
5. Said the same scout, who has been following Boston’s system in advance of the trade deadline, “If they want to make a really big deal, like a Cliff Lee, they might be in the best position of any team in baseball to do it. They have chips.”
6. I can see the Dodgers landing Ricky Nolasco, particularly because they can absorb the $5.5 million remaining on his Marlins contract.
7. Miguel Cabrera has done something this season no major league player has done since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau — go 4 for 4 with at least two home runs in three games. He’s done it against Tampa Bay, Houston, and Texas. Cabrera may be in a fight for Triple Crown honors with Baltimore’s Chris Davis, and he can become the only righthanded hitter with three straight batting titles since Rogers Hornsby won six straight from 1920-25.
Updates on nine
1. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies — Interest by at least the Dodgers and Royals, but one Phillies official indicated the organization may want Utley to be the glue during the rebuilding process. The Phillies would rather find a new home for Jimmy Rollins, but he has a no-trade clause. Rollins is from the Bay Area and might approve a deal to Oakland, but for now there are no signs the A’s would be interested.
2. Michael Young, 3B, Phillies — There are at least 10 teams who have made contact with the Phillies regarding Young, according to a major league source, and it would “be an upset” if the Phillies held on to him. He certainly fits the Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers to name four teams, but there are apparently many more.
3. Joe Blanton, RHP, Angels — An interesting observation by a baseball official, who said that he thought Blanton pitched better when he was heavier. He was 250 pounds and is now at 215. It appears Blanton had more stamina and velocity back then.
4. Raul Ibanez, OF/DH, Mariners — Ibanez has hit 21 homers and would be an ideal pickup for a contender, but there’s a feeling that the 41-year-old might be someone the Mariners would keep to set an example for some of their younger hitters. Shane Victorino works out with Ibanez in the offseason and marvels at his physical ability and strength.
5. Kyle Lohse, RHP, Brewers — There’s a lot of discussion about the Brewers trading John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, with Yovani Gallardo also being discussed. But while a lot of teams stayed away from Lohse as a free agent, he could be a stabilizer for a contending team. Lohse is 4-6 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.163 WHIP, so he’s pitched well for a poor team, without the benefit of spring training.
6. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Red Sox — Interesting discussion will ensue on Ellsbury. One National League GM is a fan, and said, “A very good player, but speed guys once they hit 30, you have to beware about length of contract. He’s interesting in that he hit 30-plus homers and then stopped hitting homers. He’s obviously a great player, but you want to see the power numbers go up, not down.” Agent Scott Boras’s take — bring on the OBP and the home runs be damned.
7. Alex Rios, RF, White Sox — While Rios would fit teams such as Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and the Yankees, entering the weekend he hadn’t hit a home run since June 9, and had only two since May 17. He’s hitting .271 on the season with 11 homers and 28 RBIs, but also hindering any trade attempt is the remaining money on this year’s $12.5 million salary and next year’s $12.5 million. The White Sox would likely have to eat some of it. They have received a few calls on him.
8. Cliff Lee, LHP, Phillies — The feeling now among some Phillies officials is that they won’t deal him, but rather continue to build around him. Lee’s $25 million salary for each of the next two years, and $27.5 million in 2016, makes it difficult to get a number of teams interested. He would be anyone’s prize, but the Phillies would have to foot some of the bill as long as they were getting a big return.
9. Lance Berkman, DH/1B, Rangers — Certainly one of the reasons the Rangers signed Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal is because Berkman’s recurring knee woes have caused him to have a poor season. It almost reminds people of the season he had with the Yankees when he could never get right. Berkman is hitting .191 (13 for 68) with two homers, six RBIs, and a .279 slugging percentage since June 1. He has virtually no power in his swing.
From the Bill Chuck files: “In June, Jimmy Rollins hit no homers in 102 ABs, Jacoby Ellsbury none in 100 ABs, and Vernon Wells had none in 75 at bats.” Also, some June bests for the Red Sox: “The Red Sox took 887 strikes in June, the most in the majors. The Red Sox swung at 1,947 pitches in June, the most in the AL, second only to the Rockies, who swung at 1,957. The Red Sox fouled off 756 pitches in June, the most in the majors. The Red Sox hit 190 line drives in June, the most in the majors.” . . . Former major leaguer David Segui, said he remembers looking at Ramirez’s swing before they started working together and he asked him, “When did you stop wanting to hit .340 with 40 homers and 100 RBIs?” Segui said, “It’s like when you see someone you know walking, you can recognize his walk without looking at him. All we did was get back to what he used to do. I’m happy he got another shot [with Round Rick, the Rangers’ Triple A affiliate]. People don’t understand how hard he works. They think of him as that goofy guy who took PEDs, but he’s worked at it his whole career. I think he’s a good example for kids just to say, ‘PEDs are not an option. Look at me, look at those of us who took them. Now there’s testing. You can’t get away with that stuff.’ ” . . . Happy birthday, Matt Mantei (40), Glenn Hoffman (55), and Bob Gallagher (65).Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.