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See ya, Olympics: It's baseball time
I love the Olympics. You love the Olympics. Anyone who does not love the Olympics ought to be tried for sports heresy and put in the stocks.
Like most of you — other than the aforementioned heretics — my Olympic function was that of the viewer/reader. I was awed by the sublime performances of Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, Gabby Douglas, Serena Williams and other champions. I came to FOXSports.com to read (and watch) analysis of triumphs and controversies from our fabulous reporters in London.
But here at National Pastime Headquarters, I can report with 100 percent certainty that the baseball schedule did not stop. That’s bold, when you think about it: Political parties wouldn’t dare schedule their conventions during the Olympics, but Major League Baseball tugs on its proverbial batting gloves and continues swinging.
(Random thought: Usain Bolt is the fastest man on the planet, but how would he fare against R.A. Dickey’s knuckler or Justin Verlander’s 100-mph heat?)
This column is dedicated to you, the Olympics-obsessed sports fan who is about to enter withdrawal until Sochi 2014. Baseball is here to comfort you, because it never left. If the only sporting events you saw for a fortnight began with the daaah-daaah-dee-da-da-da-da theme, here’s what you missed.
The Angels traded for Zack Greinke — and he hasn’t helped.
On the night of London’s opening ceremony, the Angels made their own declaration by acquiring Greinke from the Brewers. A certain baseball columnist (ahem) opined that Greinke could become the “swing” acquisition in this year’s American League West race.
Well … the Angels are 5-10 since he joined the club. They are eight games behind the division-leading Texas Rangers, not to mention 1 1/2 back of the surprising Oakland A’s.
Suffice it to say, Greinke hasn’t had the impact I expected. He is 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA in Anaheim, and the Angels are winless in his three starts. The Angels haven’t won a series since the trade, pointing to problems that transcend one starting pitcher. The bullpen, which owner Arte Moreno neglected during his offseason makeover, is responsible for five losses this month. All-Star outfielder Mark Trumbo has cooled lately, too.
The Red Sox are toast.
The Red Sox teased their fans again Sunday with a 14-1 shellacking of the moribund Cleveland Indians. Carl Crawford stroked three doubles and Adrian Gonzalez had one of his best days of the season (homer, double, four RBI).
The problem with the victory is that it salvaged only a split against the American League’s worst team since the All-Star break. Jon Lester should be able to carve up below-average lineups, as he did Sunday (12 strikeouts in six innings).
The Red Sox remain capable of such outbursts. But they don’t do it often enough to matter. The Red Sox went 8-9 while the Olympic torch was lit — hardly the sort of hot streak manager Bobby Valentine has been forecasting for weeks.
Boston enters the week fourth in the American League East, 11 games behind the Yankees. The story is the same with the Red Sox — not good enough, or, the very least, not consistent enough.
CC Sabathia is injured — again.
Sabathia has the most wins of any active pitcher under the age of 35. He finished among the top five in the Cy Young Award balloting five times and took home the trophy in 2007. Through it all, he has had the durability of a marathoner: He averaged roughly 240 regular-season innings the past five seasons.
Over the weekend, he landed on the disabled list for the second time this year. First, it was a groin strain just prior to the All-Star break. Now, it’s left elbow soreness. Sabathia told reporters he should be ready to pitch when the minimum 15 days are up, but the Yankees have to be concerned. Phil Hughes’ performance Sunday in Toronto — four innings, seven earned runs — didn’t exactly ease their minds.
With a five-game lead in the AL East, the Yankees shouldn’t have to worry about making the playoffs. But in the Bronx, it’s not about making the playoffs.
Joey Votto will be out longer than expected.
The Reds were the hottest team in baseball coming out of the All-Star break, with a 15-1 stretch that ended Aug. 4 — the night of Phelps’ last golden race. Since then, the Reds (specifically Jay Bruce) have been swinging as if underwater. They need Votto. But he’s not coming back anytime soon.
Votto was an NL MVP candidate when it was announced he had a torn meniscus in his left knee and would need three or four weeks to recover from surgery. Well, that was three or four weeks ago. The Reds acknowledged over the weekend that Votto required an additional procedure to remove loose cartilage from the knee. Bad news. Suddenly, the end of the month might be an optimistic timetable.
Fortunately for the Reds, neither the Pirates nor the Cardinals have made a move in the NL Central.
The Rays have started their second-half surge.
Joe Maddon’s team seized the AL gold medal with a league-best 11-4 record during the Olympiad. Not surprisingly, their torrid stretch coincided with the return of Evan Longoria after he missed more than three months with a partially torn left hamstring.
To be more specific, the Rays are 6-0 with him back in the lineup.
Of equal importance, the Tampa Bay pitching staff is living up to its lofty preseason expectations. The Rays have a 2.35 ERA since the All-Star break, which is almost unheard of (over a full month) in today’s AL. They have an outside chance at catching the Yankees in the division; even if they don’t, they will be the team no one wants to face in the wild-card round.
The Orioles still haven’t faded.
So, what kind of ovation do you think Phelps (native Marylander) will get when he throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Orioles’ postseason home opener?
OK, maybe we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. But it’s the middle of August, and the Orioles would be one of the AL’s wild-card teams if the playoffs started today.
Manny Machado, who just turned 20 last month, has become the Beltway’s latest rookie idol with three home runs in his first four major league games. Nate McLouth, a disappointment with the Braves and Pirates, has come up from the minors and resuscitated his career. This team defies reason … and is running out of games to prove itself wrong.
Bryce Harper has gone cold.
You may be surprised to learn that Harper, the 19-year-old wunderkind, has a .174 batting average since the All-Star break.
Harper’s slump is understandable, given the rigors of the major leagues on a teenager’s body and mind. And it’s not a huge story at the moment, because his teammates are playing so well. The Nationals were 12-5 while the games went on in London, second only to the division-rival Braves (12-4) in the NL.
The Nationals have the best record in the majors. Barring a Red Sox-esque collapse, they will reach the postseason for the first time since moving from Montreal. So get ready for plenty of debate about whether they should shut down Stephen Strasburg — who, you may recall, won a bronze medal in Beijing while playing for future Nationals manager Davey Johnson.
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