Gennaro Filice
Thursday June 12th, 2008

1. Milton Bradley intrigue: In the most overlooked storyline in baseball this season, first-year Ranger Milton Bradley leads the American League in the holy trinity of hitting percentages: batting average (.333), on-base percentage (.455) and slugging percentage (.638). Add in 14 homers (including six in his last 10 games), 45 RBI and 46 runs, and Bradley is currently one of the most devastating offensive forces in the game.

Jon Daniels must be tickled to death with this MVP-type production. The Rangers GM signed Bradley to a one-year deal for a modest $5.25 million plus incentives. That's about $70 million less than the Rangers reportedly offered Torii Hunter. Through Wednesday, Hunter was hitting .267 with eight homers.

But how long will Bradley's Arlington honeymoon last? Always known for his unstable nature, Bradley had another incident Wednesday night. Serving as Texas' designated hitter at Kansas City, Bradley heard Royals TV announcer Ryan Lefebvre harp on his attitude in the clubhouse between at-bats. (Comments which, in this writer's humble opinion, were unnecessary in the context of the broadcast.)

Following the game, Bradley stormed up to the press box in search of Lefebvre, but Daniels and Texas manager Ron Washington intercepted Bradley before he could reach Lefebvre and escorted him back to the clubhouse. Then Bradley broke down in tears and vented to his teammates, saying, "I'm tired of people bringing me down. It wears on you. I love you guys, all you guys. I'm strong, but I'm not that strong. All I want to do is play baseball and make a better life for my kid than I had."

On top of being one of baseball's most emotional players, Bradley is also one of its most brittle. He has been on the disabled list 12 times in the last six years, eclipsing 101 games in a season just once in his career (2004 with the Dodgers). His 2007 season ended prematurely when he tore his ACL while arguing with first base umpire Mike Winters. (Winters was suspended by MLB for using a profanity aimed at Bradley.)

So how will the rest of the season play out? Can Bradley continue to produce gaudy offensive numbers or will his fragile nature -- both physically and mentally -- get the best of him? Here at Three Up, Three Down, we're hoping he keeps it together and takes home the AL Comeback Player of the Year award. Speaking of Comeback Player of the Year candidates ...

2. Cantu's return: Vanilla Ice ... Right Said Fred .... The Baha Men ... Chumbawamba ... Afroman ... Dexys Midnight Runners ... Los Del Rio. Yeah, we're talking one-hit wonders. And for a while, I thought that is how Jorge Cantu would be remembered in baseball circles.

Cantu came out of nowhere in 2005 and posted 28 homers and 117 RBI, earning team MVP honors for the Devil Rays. But Cantu didn't seem to play into Tampa Bay's future plans. Just as quickly as he arrived, he was gone.

After spending much of the 2007 season in the minors, Cantu was invited to Marlins spring training this year. He took full advantage, hitting .366 and earning the right to replace Miguel Cabrera at third.

Cantu's re-emergence is a big reason behind the Marlins' surprising success. With six homers over the past six games, Cantu is steadily re-establishing himself as a solid run producer. The amazing part is he's only 26. Cantu's glove could definitely use some work (he leads the majors with 14 errors), but it's refreshing to see him back on the scene.

He returns to Tampa Bay for a series against the Rays starting on Friday. Payback's a mother.

3. The new Moose: Mike Mussina started the season at 1-3 with a 5.75 ERA. Like clockwork, a Steinbrenner felt obligated to publicly offer a solution for the 39-year-old's woes. "[Mussina] just needs to learn how to pitch like Jamie Moyer," Hank Steinbrenner told the New York Times.

Since the Boss Jr.'s rant, Mussina has easily outpitched Moyer. In fact, he's outpitched most hurlers in baseball.

OK, OK. Boss Jr. wasn't suggesting Mussina produce Moyer-like numbers, but rather that he adopt Moyer's approach on the hill -- something of a decelerated nibble. And Mussina has done just that.

The new incarnation of Mussina owns the black on both sides of the plate, while keeping everything down (his 1.37 groundball-to-flyball ratio is his highest mark since 2000). Most importantly, Moose has significantly slowed down his offspeed. At times he even dips down into the high-60s, making his mid-80s fastball seem electric.

Mussina (9-4) is one win shy of extending his American League record to 17 straight seasons with at least 10 wins. There's still plenty of baseball to be played before the break, but right now it's reasonable to imagine Mussina starting the All-Star game on his home turf, Yankee Stadium.

1. Cincy's shortstop hex: Beware, Paul Janish -- you're walking on cursed grounds.

Earlier this week, the Reds sent a third starting shortstop to the disabled list this season.

This disturbing trend began in the preseason, when projected starter Alex Gonzalez was diagnosed with a broken left knee. Gonzo's replacement, Jeff Keppinger, quickly emerged as Cincinnati's most consistent hitter ... until he broke his kneecap on a foul tip last month. Keppinger's stand-in, Jerry Hairston Jr., hit .336 with a team-leading 12 steals ... before breaking his thumb earlier this week.

Until one of the three wounded shortstops returns, the Reds are down to rookie Paul Janish. He's sound defensively but hasn't shown much at the plate, hitting .238 in 42 at-bats.

Somebody please just make sure the kid's health insurance forms are in order.

2. Alou's corroding body: Sweet Moises -- Alou may be headed back to the disabled list! The 41-year-old returned from the DL to play Tuesday, but his clean bill of health didn't last 24 hours; he was forced to sit out Wednesday's game with calf pain. It's unknown how serious the injury is. "I'm very embarrassed to walk in here, to look at my teammates, especially with what we're going through right now," Alou said. "I wish I was standing here talking to you guys about a game-winning hit, instead of, 'I'm hurt, I'm hurt, I'm hurt.' It's the story of my life."

You're not kidding, Moises. Another trip to the disabled list would be the outfielder's third this season and 18th of his 19-year career. At this point, it seems like Felipe Alou would have a better chance at logging 100 games in a season.

3. Livan Hernandez: All right, enough on the injury front, this column needs some genuinely atrocious play. Thank you, Livan.

The Twins are starting to fade in the AL Central, and Livan has definitely contributed to the demise. After starting the year at 6-1, he is winless in his last five starts. During this poor stretch, the veteran has allowed 26 earned runs. His one-year contract with the Twins includes $2 million in performance bonuses. Don't think he's counting his money quite yet.

Livan will try to get back on Thursday night, as he faces Cleveland for the first time ever in the regular season. (He beat the Indians twice in the 1997 World Series.)

• Tampa Bay dropped two of three games in Angel Stadium of Anaheim, which has truly been a house of horrors for the Rays. Tampa Bay has won just six times in their last 37 contests at the Angels' home park.

• In Game 2 of the Angels-Rays series, Vlad Guerrero punished a James Shields offering for a two-run homer. Shields' immediate reaction is priceless.

• Does anyone else get the feeling that Josh Beckett just gets bored with the regular season?

• Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar may be young (25), but he already has the killer instinct in the clutch.

Lance Berkman hit an absolute bomb off Kyle Lohse on Sunday. At 464 feet, it was the third-longest homer in Minute Maid Park history.

Joba Chamberlain has done for pitch counts what Sigmund Freud did for sex.

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