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05/04/2008 Archived Entry: "WORLD BASEBALL TODAY: Vol. 2, No. 18"

by Bruce Baskin
Radio Miami International

The Florida Marlins are still on top of the National League East Division standings, but they’re going to need to stay healthy to remain there. Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez had to scratch a couple of everyday players from the lineup last week due to minor aches and pains. First baseman Mike Jacobs took Tuesday night off with a sprained right middle finger, while left fielder Josh Willingham was a late scratch due to a stiff back. With a limited payroll, the Marlins can’t afford to lose starters.
Minor injuries aside, the Fish are off to a fast start. Their 15 wins in April set a team record for wins in the opening month of the season. One reason for Florida’s first-place showing has been 24-year-old left-handed pitcher Scott Olsen, who has been giving the Marlins seven innings of strong pitching every time out thus far in 2008. Gonzalez has slotted Olsen between newcomers Andrew Miller and Burke Badenhop in the starting rotation because both have struggled to go deep into games.
With the early wins, the young Marlins have been building confidence. One of the few veterans on the team, infielder Wes Helms, shares the feeling. “We’re not here to go .500,” Helms said, “We’re here to go to the playoffs.”
The Marlins lead the NL East with a 15-11 record, a half-game ahead of 15-12 Philadelphia and a game up on the 14-12 New York Mets. The St. Louis Cardinals lead the Central Division with an 18-12 record, half a game in front of the 16-10 Chicago Cubs. In the NL West, the 20-8 Arizona Diamondbacks have the best record in the National League and are six games ahead of the 13-13 Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Tampa Bay Rays won seven of ten games to pull into contention in the American League’s East Division, and their fans will have a chance to reward them on the All-Star Game ballot. Nine Rays players have been listed this year, including left fielder Carl Crawford. Crawford represented Tampa Bay in last season’s classic in San Francisco, and drilled a home run for the American League.
Crawford is back on the ballot this year, along with Tampa Bay second baseman Akinori Iwamura, first baseman Carlos Pena, shortstop Jason Bartlett, third baseman Willie Aybar, catcher Dioner Navarro and fellow outfielders B.J. Upton and Jonny Gomes. Rookie third baseman Evan Longoria was not on the Rays’ opening day roster and wasn’t listed on the ballot.
Right-handed pitcher Rolando Arrojo was the first Tampa Bay player picked to an All-Star Game in 1998. Outfielder Jose Canseco became the only player in franchise history to be elected to the team one year later. Crawford has represented the Rays two times, the most ever for any Tampa Bay player. This year’s All-Star Game will be played July 15 at New York’s Yankee Stadium.
The Rays hold third place in the American League’s East Division with a 14-12 record, the first time Tampa Bay has ever had a winning record in April. Baltimore is on top of the East at 15-11, six percentage points ahead of 16-12 Boston. In the AL Central, the 14-12 Chicago White Sox lead 13-14 Cleveland by a game-and-a-half. Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels are tied for first in the West with 17-11 ledgers.

Japan’s Pacific League is off to a good start in attendance in 2008. Four of the league’s six teams have seen increases at the gate, and the PL is experiencing an overall boost of 10 percent one month into the season. The biggest surprise has come from the Orix Buffaloes.
The Orix franchise moved from Kobe to Osaka in the offseason, and fans have responded to give the team a 45 percent increase at the gate. Despite a 12-21 showing in the standings, Orix is averaging over 16,000 fans per game, compared to just over 11,000 per opening in 2007.
Overall, the Softbank Hawks are leading the Pacific League attendance derby despite the largest drop in attendance in 2008 thus far. The Hawks are averaging just over 27,000 per game, a ten percent drop from the 30,000-plus who came to their games in Fukuoka last year.
The Seibu Lions are bringing up the rear in Pacific League attendance at just over 14,000 fans per game despite leading the league with an 18-12-1 record, including a 13-5-1 mark at home. They lead the Rakuten Golden Eagles by a game-and-a-half, with Nippon Ham in third place at 17-15-1. Over in the Central League, the Hanshin Tigers have the best record in Japan at 19-7-1, good enough to keep them two-and-a-half games ahead of the second-place Chunichi Dragons.

The Korea Baseball Organization and Korea Baseball Association have pared South Korea’s Olympic team roster to 66 players, down from an initial list of 100. The new roster includes 37 pitchers, five catchers, twelve infielders and twelve outfielders.
Among the players surviving the first cut are right-handed pitcher Chan-ho Park of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Yomiuri Giants first baseman Seung-yeop Lee. Added to the roster was Chunichi Dragons outfielder Byung-kyu Lee, who was not listed on the first 100-man roster due to lackadaisical play during the Olympic qualifying round last December. He was brought back due to recent strong play in Japan’s Central League.
The scheduled date to submit final rosters to the International Olympic Committee is July 23. Eight teams have qualified for the Beijing Olympics in August, with the top four teams advancing to the semifinals after round-robin play.

Former major league pitcher Mac Suzuki has been released by the La New Bears of the Chinese Professional Baseball League to make room on the roster for import pitcher Jermaine Van Buren. At the time of his release last week, Suzuki’s record this year in Taiwan was 1-0 with one save in five games, but his ERA was 11.57, which is not going to get it done no matter where you’re pitching.
The 28-year-old Van Buren is a right-hander who split 2007 with a pair of AAA teams, going a combined 1-3 with three saves and a 3.66 ERA in 47 games for Columbus of the International League and Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League.
The 14-9-1 Bears are in second place in Taiwan, trailing only the 17-7 President Lions. Ex-big leaguer Lou Pote has gotten off to a good start for the Lions with a 3-0 record and a 2.60 ERA. The Chinatrust Whales are third in the CPBL at 11-13, the Brother Elephants are fourth at 10-13-1, and the dMedia T-Rex and Sinon Bulls are tied for fifth with 9-14-1 marks.

Venerable Julio Franco, the oldest man ever to homer in a major league game, is retiring from baseball at age 49. Franco was hitting .250 with a homer and three (!) stolen bases for the Quintana Roo Tigres after 36 games when he announced his retirement last week. He homered for the New York Mets exactly one year ago today off Arizona’s Randy Johnson as a 48-year-old. For his major league career, Franco hit .298 with 2,586 hits and 173 homers over 23 seasons.
Franco told the Mexican sports daily Record, “I understand that my time has passed, and the great men and athletes know when to say ‘enough.’” A class act all the way to the end.
Monclova and Saltillo continue to duke it out in the Mexican League Northern Division race. The Acereos are 24-12, one game ahead of the 23-12 Saraperos. Sitting four games back in third place are the 20-16 Laguna Vaqueros. In the LMB South, the Yucatan Leones are 25-11 to lead 22-13 Mexico City by two-and-a-half games. The Veracruz Aguilas are in third at 21-15. The Oaxaca Guerreros are off to a horrible start, winning just seven of their first 34 games to sit 17 games out of first and six games behind seventh-place Minititlan.

Tampa Bay Rays scout John Gilmore was in Manila recently to look over Filipino players and conduct a tryout camp in conjunction with Baseball Philippines. This marks the second time Gilmore has visited the Philippines. He came to Manila in 2005 with a group of senior American ballplayers for an exhibition game against former Philippines National Team players as part of a goodwill world tour with Baseball International. Prior to his departure that year, Gilmore promised to return to Manila to help baseball in the Philippines by creating a link between the national program there and all interested major league teams.
In the Baseball Philippines Series 3 race, the Manila Sharks have a perfect 5-0 record to build a one-and-a-half-game lead over the 3-1 Batangas Bulls. The Antipolo Pilgrims and Cebu Dolphins are tied for third at 2-2, the Taguig Patriots are fifth at 2-3, the Dumaguete Uni-Bikers are sixth with a 1-3 mark, and the Makati Mariners hold last place at 0-4. While Manila is beating opponents by an average score of 9-3, Makati is losing by an average count of 8-2. There are two baseball seasons per calendar year in the Philippines: One in the spring, the second in the fall.

The International Baseball Federation has replaced Venezuela with Taiwan as the site for the 13th World Youth Baseball Championships. The tournament was originally scheduled to be held in Venezuela last summer, but the IBAF cancelled the event after Taiwan protested the denial of player entry visas to that country by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.
The World Youth Championships will be held in Taichung, Taiwan, which has hosted several international baseball tournaments in recent years. The IBAF’s Executive Committee approved the move last weekend after Taichung applied for the event to IBAF headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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Replies: 1 Comment

Yo, Bruce,

Love your weekly summary.


Posted by Max Blue @ 05/04/2008 06:55 AM EST

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