Q: What is your best guess on the future of John Smoltz?
— Frank Williams, Boston
A: Frankly, judging from his showing with the Red Sox, I think it’s time for Smoltz, 42, to retire. I hate to see a Hall of Famer and great competitor struggle so much. But I won’t be the least bit surprised if he resurfaces elsewhere this season, and possibly beyond.
Two reported possibilities are Texas and St. Louis, and to me, the latter makes far more sense in terms of pitching in the National League, and for Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, who is known to work magic with veteran pitchers.
While we’re on the subject, let’s take a look at Smoltz’s accomplishments, because practically nobody else has done what he has in terms of a starter/reliever combination:
A 212-152 record, 3.32 ERA, 3,435 innings, 3,044 strikeouts, 154 saves, 53 complete games, 16 shutouts, and a clutch 15-4-2.67 postseason log.
The closest career comparison is Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, which tells you a lot: 197-171, 3.50 ERA, 3,285 innings, 2,401 strikeouts, 390 saves, 100 complete games, 20 shutouts, and 15 postseason saves.
Q: With the Angels and Dodgers both having the best winning percentage in their respective leagues, how long before we start hearing about an all-L.A. World Series?
— Gregg West, Westerville, Ohio
A: I’ve already seen references to a ‘Freeway World Series’ in Los Angeles-area papers, and you can bet it’s a popular sports radio subject out there, too. Both teams certainly have a solid chance to win their respective pennant, but the likelihood of that occurring isn't all that great, in reality.
Talking to a few NL scouts lately, the consensus seems to be that the Phillies have become the league's best team with the acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez, who made a nice debut on Wednesday, consistently reaching the 91-93-mph range with his fastball in a win over the Cubs.
The Cardinals' lineup also is dramatically improved with the additions of Mark DeRosa, Julio Lugo and Matt Holliday, while the Dodgers haven't been as good since the All-Star break as they were before it, pitching issues mostly to blame.
Still, the Dodgers' record remains a handful of games better than either the Phillies or Cardinals, and homefield advantage in the playoffs is always a key factor.
The Angels have been passed by the Yankees for the AL's best record, but the two teams are 1-2 in the majors for the best records since the All-Star break. Vlad Guerrero is back in the lineup, and Torii Hunter should be soon enough, so the league's leading offense in terms of runs scored figures to get better.
Strangely, it's the pitching that is questionable in Anaheim — have we ever said that in the Mike Scioscia era? But it's true, and when you line up potential playoff rotations for the AL teams, it's hard to get overly excited about the Angels' chances of reaching the World Series. Beyond Jered Weaver and John Lackey, this isn't one of Scioscia's better rotations, with both Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders struggling this season. And the bullpen isn't as strong as usual, either, as the Angels rank an astounding 12th in the AL in team ERA.
Q: When will baseball get smart and establish a salary cap? As the system is set up now, there is no parity.
— Victor O.
A: Bud Selig would argue with you about the parity issue, Victor. As the commissioner often points out, since 2000, we've had only one double World Series winner — the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007 — and only a handful of teams haven't made the playoffs at least once.
But that said, there's no doubt we're seeing the negative affects of the nation's deep economic recession. It's no coincidence that as we head down the stretch this season, almost all the teams with the biggest payrolls are in position to make the playoffs (the Cubs and Mets being the exceptions).
And for the first time in a while (read: the implementation of the stepped-up revenue sharing and luxury tax rules), we're seeing some serious salary dumping by teams facing financial problems, especially the Indians and Blue Jays.
But to get back to your question, I believe it would take an extended and severe economic recession forcing a majority of teams into payroll-dumping situations for the current rules to change.
ATLANTA (AP) - Matt Harvey pitched six hitless innings, John Buck homered and the New York Mets held off another Atlanta comeback, beating the Braves 4-3 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.