A lot of players will tell you that amidst their own games and the preparation, treatment and travel that takes place in-between, they don't get to watch a lot of baseball or truly follow the game. You know, like fans. But some do. Our baseball department nominated several. Today we're talking to Jensen Lewis, the Indians closer. Fun fact: he went to Vanderbilt (they're ranked!) with fellow pitching stud and number one pick, David Price of the Rays. Here now, Jensen recaps MLB '08.
Top Stories of the MLB Season
The year of Cliff Lee: From 5-8 last year to (currently) 22-2, 2.41 ERA. The AL Cy Young favorite.
"There's a little personal bias, but it's still an incredible story. To go from such a low place to where he is now is amazing. He's just on a mission. You're seeing a pitcher who doesn't fear any hitter. To be able to do what he's done, it's like a video game, you can't simulate it."
The Rays: Overcoming all expectations.
"Everyone says you need some veteran leadership combined with young guys who are upstarts to provide energy, but you look at that team and they're a bunch of kids playing together and they don't think about anything else but winning. They've got a swagger, they've got a confidence. It's borderline cocky, like, they walk out there and they know they're gonna win. It fires you up as a player, but that's a credit to them. At the beginning of the year, nobody said they could win that division. They'd look at you like you were crazy."
The Al Central: The Tigers and Indians were supposed to battle it out, but the Sox and Twins are vying for the crown in a five-deep division.
"You can see the level of talent in the top four teams, but the worst thing is you hate to play the Royals. They are really confident and they seem like they're just a couple guys away. They go balls-to-the-wall every play. We looked at our division coming into the year and thought, 'If we win this division, that would say something.' You'd have to be good all year. If you have an injury, it gets exposed big time. All the teams are so deep, even in the pens. Every team has an All-Star closer … except for us."
The Manny Trade: LA gets Manny, Boston gets Bay. You know the deal.
"The bottom line with this trade is that in this game, you gotta have 25 people on the same page, and that seems to be what made it happen. When guys know their roles and don't try to do too much, teams take off. Anaheim is a perfect example. They add Teixeira, and suddenly they are the hardest team in baseball to pitch to."
Tim Lincecum's ability to be "unfair": 17-4, 2.46 ERA this year. The NL Cy Young favorite.
"You look at him, and what he generates, and as he's mid-motion, it looks like he's going to fall off the back of the mound. To hit 96 like that at under 6-feet… The only other pitcher who comes to mind is Scott Kazmir. It's not "nasty," which is overused, it's that when he's on, it's not even fair. For raw stuff, if he's not the best, he's there."
The Anaheim Dominance: They're currently 20.5 games up in the AL West. And then there's K-Rod…
"Whoever they're facing, they don't try to do too much. Everyone has their own approach and they stick with it. The lineup is awful to face. You can pitch well and be cashed on pitches by the 4th inning. With K-Rod, you look at the teams with the most blown saves, and if they can convert half of those, they'd be in the race. It just tells you the value of a strong closer and the stability he brings to a bullpen.
Yankee Stadium Comes Down
"What I'll remember is that we were the last team to win a playoff game there. Last year as a rookie I got to pitch there in the playoffs. There's so many things I'll take out of that place. Like the fans. Yankee Stadium is, by far, the toughest stadium to pitch in. The mound literally shakes when those people get into the game. It's an incredible feeling. You come into that place and the fans just don't like you, and they are happy to let you know."
"I know the Angels have been dominant and the Red Sox have been there, but if you match them up with the Rays or even Chicago, anybody can win. I think people are sleeping on Chicago. That's a lineup you don't like to face. They hit a lot of home runs, they get you in a high pitch-count. All of the AL teams have a lot of lineup depth, and enough pitching. All of them have a viable shot to make it."
"Here, I look at the Cubs; I think they're a few steps ahead of everybody. Philadelphia is also really good because of that lineup. The Mets are tough just because there's a lot of talent."
The Guys Right Now Pitchers Hate to Face
"Without a shadow of a doubt, Joe Mauer. Even in BP you can see that he can do anything. When he needs to hit a double, he can hit a double; if he needs to hit a home run, he can do that. We just faced him and it seems like he hit stuff everywhere. You see him on TV, it looks effortless. That's one guy I never want to face with the bases loaded in a situation where he can win the game."
"He's just such a good hitter. We're all breathing a sigh of relief that he's in the NL now. He, like a lot of All-Star hitters, doesn't go up looking for a pitch or a count per se, because they can hit anything. But they also have the discipline sometimes to do just that. They go down 0-2 or 1-2 and say, 'Still, if I don't get my pitch, I'm not touching it. I can lay off.' It's a bear to deal with. You never feel ahead."
Randomly … Best Place to Eat in the Majors This Year
"It's weird, but one of their clubbies (clubhouse attendants) cooks, and he makes the best chicken sandwiches and burgers that I've ever had."