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Friday, September 17, 2010
First Pitch: Singling out Suzuki's success

By Jeremy Lundblad

Ichiro
Today’s Trivia: The Seattle Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki is in the midst of his 10th straight season leading the American League in singles. Only two other AL players have had at least four consecutive seasons leading the league in singles. Can you name them?

Quick Hits: Are the New York Yankees a sure thing for the playoffs? Coolstandings.com gives them a 97.3 percent chance of making the postseason. A half game out of first place in the American League East and with a six-game lead in the Wild Card, that seems about right with 16 games left. Six of those games are against the Boston Red Sox, and the Yankees have lost eight of 10 heading into their three-game series with one of the hottest teams in baseball –- the Baltimore Orioles. Yes, the 58-88 Orioles, who host the Yankees for three games then travel to Boston for three. Let’s take a quick look at what the Orioles have done since manager Buck Showalter took over.

• 26-15 since Aug. 3, which is when Showalter took over. Only the Minnesota Twins (29-11) and Philadelphia Phillies (29-13) boast better records over that span. If the season started on that date, the Orioles would have a 3½-game lead over the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, while the Yankees would trail by four games.

• Showalter’s first game followed Baltimore’s 73rd loss. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 1997 Phillies hold the MLB record for most wins in history following a team’s 73rd loss. In Terry Francona’s first season as manager, the 1997 Phillies went 34-21 to finish the season after starting 36-73. With 16 games to go, the Orioles need to go 9-7 to top that win total.

• Another gem from the Elias Sports Bureau: By winning his first four games, Showalter became the first manager in MLB history to do that after taking over at team that was at least 30 games under .500.

• While Showalter certainly deserves huge accolades, another major factor was the return of Brian Roberts, who had played only 11 games prior to Aug. 3. He’s hitting .303 in 38 games since his return.

• Since Showalter took over, two of the top seven in the AL in ERA are Orioles starters: Brad Bergesen is 4-1 with a 2.37 ERA, while Jeremy Guthrie is 6-2 with a 2.64 ERA.

• In fact, prior to Showalter, Orioles’ starters were 17-55 with a 5.61 ERA. Since Aug. 3, they are 19-11 with a 2.92 ERA. So in just 41 games, their starters have eclipsed their combined win total from the first 105 games.


Friday’s Leaderboard: At .880, the Colorado Rockies easily have the highest OPS at home this season (the Yankees are next at .835). However, on the road, Colorado’s .657 OPS in the fourth worst in the majors, and its .228 batting average ranks dead last. The Rockies, who are 2.5 games back in both the NL West and Wild Card, begin a six-game road trip on Friday.

• Friday against the Texas Rangers, the Mariners' Felix Hernandez has a chance for a statement start on his quest for the American League Cy Young. However, like the rest of the AL West, King Felix has struggled against Texas this season. In four starts, he is 0-3 with a 6.38 ERA. Take a look at how much better his credentials look without those starts: 11-8, 1.92 ERA. So who has been the problem? No one has more hits off him this season than Elvis Andrus, who is 7-for-13 (.538) with five RBI.

• Is the Yankees' A.J. Burnett pitching for a spot in the postseason rotation? If so, take his performance Friday against the Orioles with a grain of salt. Burnett has a 2.48 ERA in 29 innings this season against Baltimore. Against everyone else, his ERA stands at 5.68. Non-Orioles are hitting .295 against him. The Oriole most confounded by Burnett is Matt Wieters, who is 0-for-9 this season, and 0-for-14 in his career.

Trivia Answer: From 1979-1982, Willie Wilson led the American League in singles, becoming the second AL player to do it for four straight seasons. The other was Nellie Fox, who did it for seven straight seasons from 1954-1960. No Ty Cobb? He never had more than two straight seasons.