Among the topics in this edition of Diamond Digits are a salute to an alltime great home run hitter, a player nobody can catch and a catcher nobody can recognize.
Stolen bases for Rockies speedster Willy Taveras on Saturday in a 2-0 win against the White Sox. Those thefts, all against catcher A.J. Pierzynski, put Taveras to within one of the Colorado record set in 1996 by Eric Young,who ran wild a half-dozen times against Mike Piazza and the Dodgers. Since the start on the 2001 season, only one other player, Cincinnati's Ryan Freel, swiped a quintet of bags in a single contest. In total last week, Taveras stole nine bases, six more than any other NL player and four more than AL leader Jacoby Ellsbury. Taveras now leads the Senior Circuit with 30 stolen bases is just four shy of his career high set in 2005 while he was an Astro.
American League-leading wins total for the Yankees surprise ace, Mike Mussina, who Saturday in Houston extended his AL record of consecutive years with at least 10 wins to 17. The veteran right-hander, now being heavily depended on with the foot injury to Chien-Ming Wang, has bounced back from a horrific 2007 season in which he had a 5.72 ERA and allowed a .342 opponents batting average in the second half (5.15 and .311 overall) to be one of baseball's big stories of the second half. Mussina is also half way to shedding a very dubious distinction: With 260 victories, he's is tied for 39th alltime, yet has the most career wins for any pitcher who never won 20 games in a season. He set his career high of 19 in both 1995 and 1996 for the Orioles but hasn't come any closer since. Having double-digit wins before the All Star break is no guarantee of 20 wins either. In fact in his 18 seasons, Mussina has now reached baseball's traditional midpoint on pace for 20 wins of more, nine times.
Runs batted in last week for Nationals catcher Jesus Flores, tying him with Philadelphia's Ryan Howard for the major league lead over that seven day period. Since Flores, a 2007 Rule 5 selection from the Mets Class A team, began getting regular at bats filling in for injured teammates Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada he ranks first among backstops in doubles (12), second in slugging (.538), tied for second in RBIs (22), fifth in batting average (.312) and on-base percentage (.381) all while being tied for just 13th in at bats.
C.C. Sabathia, SP, Indians
The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner couldn't have picked a better time to come out of his early season funk. After beginning the year by allowing 27 earned runs over his first four outings, Sabathia's ERA shrunk to a respectable 4.26 following his two starts this week in which he shutout the Twins on five hits and no walks and beat the Padres by allowing three runs in eight innings and striking out 10, helping the Indians go 5-2 for the week and pull into third place in the AL Central. A free agent at the end of the season, Sabathia has boosted his market value both for a contract and for a potential trade package should Cleveland choose to move him before the trade deadline. In all, since April 22 Sabathia is 5-5 with an outstanding 2.21 ERA, which ranks him third in the AL behind Scott Kazmir of the Rays and Shaun Marcum of the Jays (and fifth in the majors) during that time.
Homer Bailey, SP, Reds
Across the state of Ohio the pitching wasn't as impressive, as highly touted Homer Bailey struggled mightily this week. Long regarded as the best arm in the Reds system, Bailey was beaten out for a rotation spot by Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto and began the year at Triple A. He got the call on June 5 and proceeded to lose three straight games, including his last two this past week in which he allowed 10 earned runs, 12 hits and six walks in only six innings combined against the Cardinals and Red Sox. His 15.00 ERA for the week was 4.76 higher than anyone else for the week while his .444 opponent batting average was second worst to Jon Garland of the Angels.
With some better luck Major League Baseball might've been stamping every pitch this season to Ken Griffey Jr. with the "Alltime Home Run King" watermark. But alas, injuries cost him significant parts of nine of his 20 big league seasons, and aside from being the first man to play in a game alongside his dad, Griffey, like Mickey Mantle before him, will fall shy of the numbers that were expected of him due to maladies brought on by the rigors of playing baseball. Still, this week was a time to celebrate a home run feat as Junior, one of the few players of his era who has never been a candidate for an asterisk in the record book, reached the vaunted 600 Home Run Club on Monday in Miami. Ironically, Griffey's career at-bats-per-home-run ratio is 15.1, identical to that of Mantle and better than fellow 600-club members Hank Aaron (16.4), or Willie Mays (16.5). Congratulations Junior.
Mike Aviles, SS, Royals
It didn't take long for Mike Aviles to unseat Tony Pena Jr. as the Royals starting shortstop. After spending parts of the past three seasons at Triple A Omaha, Aviles, 27, warranted his first big league callup on May 29th after he followed up a 2007 season during which he hit .296 with 17 home runs and 77 RBIs by hitting .336 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs in just 51 games this year. Not known for his defense, he's played second, short and third in his brief stint with Kansas City, compiling a .943 fielding percentage, substandard for someone who's expected to be an everyday shortstop. However his bat is what has him in the lineup, evidenced by his .407 average, .741 slugging percentage, two home runs and four RBIs last week.