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04/27/2008 Archived Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY: Vol. 2, No. 17"

by Bruce Baskin
Radio Miami International

The Florida Marlins have yet to face any of the top teams in the National League’s Central or West Divisions, but they’ve made the most of a relatively light early schedule to remain in first place in the NL East. In carving out a 13-8 record, the Marlins played 14 of their first 20 games against Washington, Pittsburgh and Houston, who’ve combined for a less-than-impressive 23-39 mark. Florida is 9-5 against those teams.
Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t think his club should be any more concerned with the stronger teams than the weaker ones. “Any given series, somebody can come out and bite you. I’m more afraid of the teams that are struggling going into a series…What do they say about wounded animals?” The Marlins lead second-place New York by a game-and-a-half.
Elsewhere in the National League, the Chicago Cubs lead the Central Division with a 15-6 record after racking up a six-game winning streak, while the Arizona Diamondbacks lead the West by six games over Colorado, also with a 15-6 record.

Atlanta’s John Smoltz reached a milestone last week against Washington, striking out the 3,000th batter of his major league career. The 40-year-old Smoltz whiffed Nats second baseman Felipe Lopez in the third inning on a 2-2 count with a split-finger fastball, the pitch that has been responsible for much of his success. The Nationals still took a 6-0 shutout win over the Braves, who are fourth in the East with a 10-11 record.
Smoltz becomes the 16th pitcher in big league history with 3,000 or more strikeouts, almost 20 years after the Mets’ Darryl Strawberry became his first victim on July 23, 1988. At that time, Braves catcher Brian McCann was four year old. McCann was on the receiving end of Smoltz’ historic punchout of Lopez.
After returning to the clubhouse last Tuesday night, Smoltz found a number of messages, including one from future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux of San Diego, who was a teammate of Smoltz’ in Atlanta for fourteen years. Maddux’ comment? “You’ve lost one hair for every strikeout that you’ve had.”

Tampa Bay Rays ace Scott Kazmir is expected to make his first start of the season next weekend against Boston after a couple of minor league rehab appearances. Kazmir has been sidelined since February 25 with a left elbow strain after leading the American League in strikeouts last season.
The southpaw threw 66 pitches for Class A Vero Beach last Monday night in a Florida State League game against Palm Beach. Kazmir will make one more minor league start this Monday for the Class AAA Durham Bulls of the International League. Rays manager Joe Maddon says Kazmir will start against the Red Sox on May 3 or 4.
The 10-11 Rays are in fourth place in the American League East, trailing 15-8 Boston by four games. The 11-9 Chicago White Sox are the Central’s top team, while the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland A’s both lead the AL West with 13-9 records.

The Hideo Nomo experiment is over in Kansas City. The Royals designated the 39-year-old former All-Star for assignment last week after Nomo coughed up nine earned runs on ten hits over four-and-one-third innings in three relief appearances. He hadn’t appeared in a major league game since July of 2005 until this month. In his last appearance, Nomo and countryman Yasuhiko Yabuta surrendered a total of eight runs in one frame in a 13-2 loss to Oakland.
Nomo is often credited for starting a wave of Japanese pitchers in the majors, and has compiled a 123-109 lifetime record with a 4.24 ERA over 323 games in America after pitching five seasons in Japan with the Kintetsu Buffaloes. He led the National League in strikeouts in 1995 before topping the American League in whiffs for 2001. After showing Royals manager Trey Hillman an ability to strike out batters during spring training, Nomo fanned just three of the 27 batsmen he faced in the regular season.

One month does not a season make, but if the first four weeks of the Pacific League schedule is any indication, Japanese fans are in for quite a ride this year. While the Seibu Lions are still on top of the Pacific League table, the last-place Orix Buffaloes are only four games out of first place.
Seibu leads the league with a 14-11-1 record, a half-game ahead of 14-12-1 Nippon Ham and 15-13 Lotte. Rakuten is in fourth place at 13-13, Softbank is fifth at 13-15, and Orix brings up the rear at 11-16.
Over in Japan’s Central League, the Hanshin Tigers have a little more breathing room. The Tigers are in first with a 16-5 mark, two-and-a-half games up on the 13-7-1 Chunichi Dragons. Yakult is in third with a 10-9 record, the Yomiuri Giants hold forth at 9-12-1, Hiroshima is in fifth at 7-11-1, and Yokohama is off to a terrible start with a 4-15-1 record, including a 2-7-1 showing at home.

Lima Time may be coming to a close in South Korea. Former major league All-Star pitcher Jose Lima was demoted to the minors by the Korea Baseball Organization’s Kia Tigers after getting rocked in his first five starts of 2008.
Lima was the highest-profile import to sign with a Korean team during the offseason, but the one-time 21-game winner for the Houston Astros was yanked last Sunday after serving up six runs in one-and-a-third inning against the Hanwha Eagles. Before his demotion, Lima was 0-2 with a 7.43 ERA in 23 innings for the Tigers, who lost all five games the 35-year-old righty started for them.
The SK Wyverns lead the KBO with a 16-5 record, followed by the Lotte Giants at 12-6. Hanwha is third at 12-11 and Samsung’s 11-11 mark is good for fourth. Woori, Doosan, LG and Kia make up Korea’s second division.

The President Lions and La New Bears are still locked in a two-way battle for first place in Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League. The Lions have a 15-7 record, a half-game up on the Bears’ 14-7-1 posting. Things go downhill after that, with no CPBL team holding a winning record. The Brother Elephants are closest in third place at 10-11-1, the Sinon Bulls are in fourth at 9-12-1, the 9-13 China Trust Whales hold fifth place and the dMedia T-Rex are in last place at 7-14-1.

Santiago de Cuba completed a four-game sweep of Pinar del Rio last Monday with a 2-1 win over Pinar for their second consecutive Cuban National Series pennant. Reliever Reinier Roibal tossed five innings of two-hit shutout ball to record the victory, marking the second time Roibal won a series-clinching game for Santiago.
Santiago third baseman Ronnier Mustelier cranked a solo homer to left in the third inning to score the first run of the game, but Pinar tied the contest at 1-1 in the bottom of the third on Donal Duarte’s RBI single off starter Omari Romero, who was replaced on the mound for Santiago by Roibal the next inning.
The score remained tied until the top of the eighth, when Pinar starter Yunieski Maya hit Santiago batter Luis Navas with one out. At that point, Pinar manager Jorge Fuentes replaced Maya with Pedro Lazo, but Lazo eventually gave up Alexei Bell’s two-out single to left field on a full count to allow the winning run. Maya was pinned with the loss despite a solid seven-and-a third innings of five-hit ball with seven strikeouts.
Although outfielder Rolando Merino was named the Cuban Finals MVP, Santiago’s pitching was the story of the series, allowing just nine Pinar runs over 36 innings.

Former major leaguer Jose Offerman is playing for Veracruz in the Mexican League this season, and the first baseman is off to a hot start for the Aguilas. In his first 31 games for Veracruz, Offerman is second among Mexican League batters with a .395 average, trailing only Mexico City Diablos Rojos outfielder Eduardo Arredondo, who’s hitting a torrid .418. Offerman also has six homers and 23 RBIs in 123 at-bats. Another former Kansas City infielder, Kit Pellow, has whacked a league-leading ten homers in 30 games for the Saltillo Saraperos.
The Saraperos and Monclova Acereros are tied for first place in the Mexican League’s Northern Division with identical 20-11 records. Monclova’s Alfredo Garcia leads the league with six wins in seven starts. The Laguna Vaqueros are third at 17-13, while the 15-16 Chihuahua Dorados are in fourth. Defending champion Monterrey is in fifth place in the North with a 14-17.
In the LMB South, the Yucatan Leones lead the division with a league-best 22-9 record, two games ahead of 19-10 Mexico City. The Quintana Roo Tigres won eight of ten games to move into third place with an 18-13 mark, while Offerman and Veracruz have gotten off to a 17-14 start, good for fourth place.

Britain’s National League started their 75th season last weekend as last year’s champion London Mets opened defense of their pennant. The Croydon Pirates posted a perfect 26-0 record in 2007, winning the National League South Division title by six games over London. The Liverpool Trojans nudged out the Menwith Hill Patriots and Manchester Eagles in the North, but after London beat Liverpool and Croydon topped Menwith Hill in one-game semifinals, the Mets swept the Pirates in two games to win the best-of-three league final.
This year’s seven-team British National League season will culminate in a Final Four the weekend of September 6-7. Croydon has won 38 consecutive regular season games, and is seeking to reach their fifth straight league final.

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