The dog days of August have come and gone, along with my 33rd birthday and my dad’s 60th birthday. The month of August was a very, very interesting one for me and for baseball. It was definitely a month of highs and lows.
Let’s take a look at the top 10 things we learned about baseball in the month of August…
10. Alex Rodriguez hits his 600th home run.
On August 4th (the date of my dad’s birthday, actually), New York Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez became the youngest player ever to hit 600 home runs. He was 35 years and eight days old when he hit No. 600 off of Toronto Blue Jays’ starter Shawn Marcum.
Due to the fact that “A-Rod” used steroids, this great feat came and went with only fanfare by Yankee fans and ESPN. ESPN showed every A-Rod at-bat from homers No. 599 to 600 and nobody seemed to care.
Let’s stay in New York for a second…
9. Francisco Rodriguez loses his mind.
Another day, another black eye for the New York Mets. It’s always something with this organization.
Mets’ closer Francisco Rodriguez got into an altercation with the father of his girlfriend after a game against the Colorado Rockies on August 11th. Due to the incident, Rodriguez tore a ligament in his thumb and is done for the year.
It’s safe to say “K-Rod” has thrown his last pitch in a Mets uniform. The Mets will either release him or try to void his contract in the offseason. The latter is going to be tough, but it’s worth a try.
Sticking with the National League East…
8. The season ends early for Chipper Jones.
The Atlanta Braves suffered some really bad news when they learned that 3B Chipper Jones will miss the remainder of the season because of a torn ligament in his left knee. Jones hurt the knee fielding a ground ball in a game against the Houston Astros.
I actually watched the injury when it happened, and it looked ugly on TV. Jones backhanded a ball down the third-base line and attempted to make a leaping, Derek Jeter-like throw to first.
Jones pulled off the play with perfection, but landed awkwardly on his feet. It looked like his leg straightened out and he hyper-extended his knee. Jones went down immediately.
Unfortunately for the Braves and their fans, when Jones went down, he went down for the count. Jones tore his ACL and required surgery on that knee.
Jones plans on playing in 2011.
Jones is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer. One guy who might be joining him in Cooperstown…
7. Lou Piniella retires.
Piniella announced in July that he was planning on retiring at the end of this season. However, wanting to take care of his mother, Piniella called it quits on August 22nd. In classic Chicago Cubs fashion, Piniella was sent out on a 16-5 loss.
Piniella retires with a 1,835–1,713 record and a World Series title he won with the 1990 Cincinnati Reds.
At least Piniella left on his own terms; another manager didn’t…
6. The Seattle Mariners can Don Wakamatsu.
The Mariners fired manager Don Wakamatsu, pitching coach Rick Adair, and bench coach Ty Van Burkleo early in August. Wakamatsu went 127-147 since getting Seattle’s job in November 2008. Daren Brown, the Mariners’ Triple-A manager, took over for Wakamatsu on an interim basis.
There were two main reasons for Wakamatsu’s firing.
1. He lost the clubhouse. When a manager doesn’t make it through the next year after going 85-77 the previous year, that tells me the players were just tired of his act.
In the middle of the fifth inning in a game against the Boston Red Sox, Wakamatsu pulled Figgins after a perceived a lack of hustle from his second baseman on a play in the top half of the inning, when Figgins allowed a relay throw from left fielder Michael Saunders to roll through the infield. That allowed Boston’s Mike Cameron to advance to third after his double, but he did not score.
Wakamatsu and Figgins exchanged words in the dugout, and a short skirmish broke out involving several members of the team. TV replays showed Jose Lopez—with Figgins behind him—being restrained by Jack Wilson and Ryan Rowland-Smith while Russell Branyan was held back by multiple teammates.
The whole fracas was a real black eye for the entire Mariners organization.
A baseball manager is more of a relationship manager than a football or basketball coach, who are more concerned with implementing a system and then following through on the X’s and O’s of the sport. Once a baseball manager loses his relationships with his team, then he has nothing left.
2. He was a victim of unrealistic expectations. The Mariners were very active in the offseason adding Cliff Lee, Milton Bradley, and Chone Figgins. With those additions, many thought the Mariners would improve on their 85 wins from last year.
However, this team was doomed from the beginning. Seattle went into the season with two starting pitchers, a mediocre bullpen, and an Opening Day lineup that had Casey Kotchman batting third, Griffey Jr. batting fifth, and Rob Johnson and Jack Wilson batting eighth and ninth.
I don’t care how many runs the Mariners thought they were going to prevent; there was no way this team was going to be as good as they were last season. Those unrealistic expectations were the other reason Wakamatsu got the ax in Seattle.
Wakamatsu had the privilege of managing a young phenom named Felix Hernandez. Another phenom made his debut on the last day of August…
5. Aroldis Chapman makes his debut.
The Reds called up Chapman on August 31st, and he didn’t disappoint. Chapman made his debut against the Milwaukee Brewers and retired the side one-two-three on eight pitches. His fastball was clocked as high as 102 mph.
Chapman could be for the Reds down the stretch what the above-mentioned K-Rod was for the Angels in 2002.
Speaking of phenom pitchers…
4. Stephen Strasburg goes down.
In a game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Strasburg appeared to hurt himself on a 1-1 pitch that tailed low and away to fellow rookie Domonic Brown. He kept flexing his arm, and immediately the trainer came out to see what the issue was.
Strasburg left the game with what later was diagnosed as a strained tendon in his right forearm. He underwent an MRI and the results were not good. Strasburg was diagnosed with a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Strasburg underwent Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2011 season.
A couple of thoughts about this:
1. The Nationals are in no way, shape, or form to blame for this. They did everything they possibly could to protect Strasburg. Once again, this injury proves that pitching injuries have very little to do with pitch counts or innings pitched, but more to do with mechanics.
There is a reason why guys like Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, or Tom Glavine never got hurt.
2. Strasburg’s career isn’t over by any stretch of the imagination. Tommy John surgery is so common these days and the results of the procedure have been so successful that, a lot of the time, a pitcher will come back from the surgery better than ever.
The pitcher Strasburg can relate to in his case should be Josh Johnson. Johnson had Tommy John surgery at the age of 23 and is now better than ever and a legit Cy Young candidate.
Strasburg was the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft and was signed at the last minute. Now Part Two for the Nationals…
3. The Nationals sign Bryce Harper.
For the second year in a row, the Washington Nationals had the No. 1 overall pick in baseball’s June Draft, and for the second year in a row, the Nationals signed that pick to a record-setting deal.
Last year, the Nationals signed RHP Stephen Strasburg to a four-year, $15.1 million contract, which was the highest ever to a No.1 overall pick. This year, the Nationals signed No.1 overall pick Bryce Harper to a five-year, $9.9 million contract, which is the richest contract ever given to a position player in the draft.
The Nationals are handing out a lot of crispy lettuce to their No.1 picks, but as they have seen with Strasburg in 2010, it’s worth the money. The only way the Nationals will be able to compete on a year-in, year-out basis is if they build through the draft and restock their farm system. Signing guys like Strasburg, Harper, and Drew Storen (the other first-round pick from last year) is a good start.
While the Nationals are planning for the future, there were plenty of teams that were planning for today…
2. The trade winds were still blowing in August.
The biggest difference maker of this group, of course, is Ramirez. The Chicago White Sox desperately needed a DH, and Ramirez fills that void to a tee.
And the No. 1 thing we learned about baseball in August was…
1. The pennant races are heating up.
The Yankees, Twins, Rangers, Braves, Reds, and Padres all had division leads on Sept. 1st. The Rays and the Phillies are holding down the Wild Card spots in their respective leagues. Which of these teams will hold on to make the playoffs and which of these teams will fold?
We’ll check back at the end of September to see who is going to the playoffs and who will be gearing up for a round of golf.
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