TRIBE CHASES NEW YORK, NEW YORK CHASES OUT RODDICK
As an optimistic Cleveland Indians fan, I predicted in March the Tribe would win their first division title since 2001 this year and advance to the postseason. Well, it's September 5, and the Chicago White Sox stand 9.5 games in front of the Indians, thanks in part to the Sox's continued phenomenal pitching and clutch hitting. Though my prediction is a pipe dream at best now, all hope is not lost. Major League Baseball's greatest invention ever--the wildcard--has the Indians' playoff hopes alive and well.
Yesterday the Tribe dropped a 7-5 decision to the Twins, who are probably the Tribe's biggest division rival and who are five games out of the wildcard themselves. The day before that, after surviving a terrific performance from Twins ace Johan Santana and taking a 2-2 tie into the bottom of the ninth, two throwing errors allowed the Twins to cruise to a 3-2 victory. The losses, combined with a Yankee win over the Oakland A's, have Cleveland sitting in third in the wildcard, two games behing leading NY and one game behind Oakland. The Indians will have a chance to gain ground on Oakland September 13-15 in a series in Cleveland but will not meet the Yankees and their $200 million+ payroll again.
What does all this mean? It means that the Indians, who were absolutely terrific in August going 19-8, cannot afford to go into a slide. It almost seems unfair that such an amazing month of baseball didn't catapult the Indians into first, giving them some margin for error. Unfortunately, that's how competative the wildcard is. The competing teams just keep winning and putting the pressure on one another. Standing at two games back, the Tribe is in striking distance but if they lose any more ground, it may be too much to catch up with not one, but two teams. I thought going into the series in Minnesota "as long as they don't get swept, they'll be OK." C.C Sabathia made sure of that, throwing a gem Friday night. On Saturday and Sunday though, the Indians showed signs of mental fatigue, making several costly throwing and baserunning errors: two things that if they become recurring issues, will keep the Indians out of it. In addition, Jhonny Peralta, who was a poor man's Miguel Tejada in August and has produced significantly more than anyone expected this year, has started to come back down to Earth. The Indians get a chance to snap the twp-game skid at 1 p.m. today as they travel to Detroit. Scott Elarton, who was been solid all year but slumping lately, will start for the Indians, and Mike Maroth, who beat Cleveland last week at Jacobs Field, will start for the Tigers. New York is off today, and Oakland plays Seattle.
A nice article by Scott Miller on the Indians and closer Bob Wickman is headlining CBS Sportsline's home page today. To read, go here: http://cbs.sportsline.com/mlb/story/8807153
...or you could just hit up the link to CBS Sportsline under my links.
I saw yesterday where the Reds continued their quest for respectability by beating the Braves 8-3 in extra innings on a pinch-hit grand slam by Jason LaRue. Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 35th home run, quietly putting together a fantastic year. The home run tied Griffey with Mickey Mantle on the all-time list. To me, this is an incredible story. So many of the baseball media have written Griffey off as a has-been or have called him a "borderline hall-of-famer," but he has silenced many of them this year. Through trade rumors, Griffey has put together his best year ever in Cincinnati. A slim and smooth player, no one has ever accused Griffey of using steroids because we all know he's never messed with any of them. I'm not even sure if he even lifts weights. Griffey has such a smooth stroke that he is destined to hit home runs, no juice necessary. I think it's a great story for Reds fans to follow, as a terrible first half of the season have left the team far out of playoff contention. Of course, in true Griffey fashion, the slugger sprained his foot in the 12th inning. He's listed as day-to-day.
Shifting gears, the U.S. Open has already offered some drama. On the men's side, Andy Roddick, the 2003 champion and the golden boy of American tennis, has been seen more on those stupid "Andy's Mojo" American Express commercials than on the courts. He bowed out in the first round 6-7, 6-7, 6-7, to Gilles Muller, an up-and-comer from Luxembourg. It really pains me to see this because I was rooting for Roddick to get another shot at Roger "The Machine" Federer, and also, a major tournament just isn't the same without Roddick's colorful post-match commentary.
Though it's tempting for Americans-only tennis fans to ignore the rest of the men's play since Roddick is out, James Blake, Robby Ginepri and Andre Agassi are still around. Blake is playing the best tennis of his life, as he just bested the second-seeded Rafael Nadal in four sets. If he can get by Spaniard Tommy Robredo, it could set up an amazing semi-final match between Agassi and him. Agassi, who could be playing in his last open, is the sentimental favorite to win. Of course Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt, two players I love to hate, are still around in the top half. In short, there is still a reason to pay attention.
The Williams sisters have already met, but shockingly, it wasn't in the final; it was in the round of 16. Also different from recent years, Venus won! Serena, who two years ago was the Tiger Woods of the sport, has slid back and left the door open for her sister to regain supremacy. Venus will have to beat Kim Clijsters, though, if she wants to continue toward a second straight major. Sharapova, Davenport, Mauresmo, Henin-Hardenne and Mary Pierce (or as I know her, Roberto Alomar's wife) are all still around, meaning the best tennis on the women's side is probably yet to come.
Check back tomorrow for baseball and tennis updates, and maybe, just maybe, some NFL.