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Baseball's Hot Streaks and Meltdowns

   by Bryan Leonard - 06/21/2008

With the summer upon us, hot weather is being fused with hot baseball streaks of all kinds. So what gives with these Detroit Tigers, winning 10 of 12 games? They’re living up to their potential! Just a few months later than expected. Look at the offense during their 5 of 6 win streak over the Dodgers and Giants: 5, 12, 5, 6, 5, and 7 runs.

Marcus Thames is not one of their big boppers, at least before the season starter, yet the last 8 hits for Thames were home runs during that stretch. He hit seven home runs in his last seven games and six in the last five. He became the first Tiger since Willie Horton in 1969 to hit more than four home runs while connecting for at least one in four consecutive games. Even an ace pitcher like San Francisco's outstanding right-hander Tim Lincecum, who had allowed only three home runs all year and not more than one per customer, found himself serving up two to Thames in one game.

And how about Placido Polanco hitting .367 in his last 47 games? They are also getting some quality pitching from Justin Verlander and veteran Kenny Rogers, which will go a long way to stabilizing the rotation. Getting Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney back throwing smoke out of the pen would also help things.

Contrast that with the NL’s most disappointing team, the NY Mets. Willie Randolph got the ax and Jerry Manuel takes over. So how do the Mets shape up statistically? Well, they are not bad in runs scored, ranked 7th in the NL, and they are not bad in pitching, ranked 7th in the NL, plus in the middle of the pack in fielding. They should be better, especially when you realize they can throw Johan Santana and John Maine 2 out of every 5 games.

It was interesting that Manuel's first lineup card was a departure from the norm, as he gave third baseman David Wright his first break of the season from fielding duty by having him serve as the Mets' DH. Wright began the day as the only player in the big leagues to have played every inning of every game this year, which was in part a function of Randolph managing for his job and needing his best players in the lineup every day.

Another disappointing team making a change is the Mariners, dumping manager John McLaren for bench coach Jim Riggleman. The Mariners also fired general manager Bill Bavasi, replacing him on an interim basis with Lee Pelekoudas. The change at manager was not a surprise. McLaren was in over his head and had little talent or experience for handling pitching, which is the chief role of a manager.

It was interesting that the new manager moved Ichiro Suzuki back to right field, where he first came up. It’s going to take a lot more than that to get the punchless Mariners more wins, however. This team is dysfunctional, ranked last in the AL in runs scored, and second to last in pitching. At least their defense is sound – oh, wait a minute. They’ve made the fourth most errors in the AL. Stick a fork in ‘em.

At the other end of the spectrum the White Sox have turned things around, taking charge in the struggling AL Central. They lead the majors with a 3.33 team ERA and have an even stingier 3.04 ERA over the last 61 games. In that span, the starters are 23-20 with a 3.26 ERA, and the bullpen is 10-7 with a 2.47 ERA. The pitching has been strong enough for the Sox to remain in first place in the American League Central despite an offense that ranks near the bottom of the league. It doesn’t help the offense that first baseman Paul Konerko is on the 15-day DL. That’s similar to last season.

The additions of Scott Linebrink (2-1, 1.29 ERA) and Octavio Dotel (3-4, 2.87) have been part of the turnaround, but the Sox also have seen dramatic improvement in holdovers Matt Thornton (3-1, 2.70), Boone Logan (2-1, 2.16) and Nick Masset (0-0, 3.45). So with great pitching and a suspect offense you would expect the White Sox to be a strong team under the total. They are, especially on the road, starting 23-13 under the total.

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