• What the heck does "swagger" have to do with anything?

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    Mike Lupica is one of about 3,246 people previewing the Yankees-Sox series that begins tonight. He says something in his preview that a lot of Yankees-types are saying:

    The Yankees do not need to sweep the Red Sox this weekend. And even if they take three of four, they don't knock the Red Sox out of the race, they don't prove they are the best team in the league, they don't settle the score for starting out 0-8 against Boston this season. The Yankees just need to do this: Bring an old swagger to a new ballpark over the next four days . . . A good time to make it seem like old times around here. New park, old swagger.

    Can someone please explain to me what this means apart from, you know, winning games? The term "swagger" really started getting thrown around in sports with those Miami Hurricanes teams of the 1980s. Back then I took it to mean arrogance or showboating or something, as a swaggering walk (say, after sacking the QB or scoring a touchdown) kind of implied. The term is used so often now that I think it has lost all meaning. Does Lupica mean that the Yankee pitchers should knock down some Sox hitters (if so, read this for a second opinion)? Does he mean that Teixeira should circle the bases with one flap down, Jeffrey Leonard style? I wish he'd explain.

    Baseball is not football. There is no physical domination or really a lot of room for style like you might see in the NFL. If you execute, you win. If you don't, you lose. I can't imagine how "swagger" enters into it, apart from providing an empty concept about which sports writers can bleat until the actual games start.

    Maybe I'm just missing the point. If so, someone please tell me exactly what "swagger" looks like in a baseball context.

  • Cubs release B.J. Ryan

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    When the Cubs picked B.J. Ryan up off the scrap heap last month, some folks were hoping that he'd turn into this year's version of the late-2008 Jim Edmonds. Unfortunately, he was more like this year's version of the early-2008 Edmonds, and he has now asked for, and received, his release. Don't worry about him though. He'll be very comfortable living off of the five-year, $47 million contract the Blue Jays rather foolishly gave him at the end of 2005.

  • Dusty Baker given a vote of confidence

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    Last night's spectacularly unexpected start from Justin Lehr notwithstanding, the Reds are in freefall. They've lost tons of games -- they're 5-22 since their high water mark on the Fourth of July -- their putative ace is gone until 2011, and they've made trades that are perplexing to say the least. In such situations, a high-profile, expensive veteran manager tends to be in serious danger because, hey, anyone can lose with these guys, so why not do it with a cheap organizational soldier at the helm? That's not an option currently on the table in Cincy, however:

    Reds CEO Bob Castellini said Wednesday that manager Dusty Baker's job is safe.

    "Absolutely," Castellini said.

    He said Baker will be back for 2010, the final year of his contract, as well.

    "Absolutely," Castellini said.

    The Reds had lost eight straight and 14 of 15 games going into Wednesday's tilt with the Chicago Cubs. They were tied for last place in the National League Central with Pittsburgh.

    "The team has not quit," Castellini said. "They are still playing hard."

    Contrary to a lot of the stuff you see written about him, Dusty Baker is not a bad manager, and the extreme positions people take to that end are kind of silly. Baker has done well with veteran teams and has served as a stabilizing clubhouse presence. He is underrated in that regard, as that skill (i.e. serving as a stabilizing presence) is itself underrated.

    Dusty has not done well with young and developing teams, however, and for that reason is he is probably ill-suited to be the Reds' manager. It's not urgent or anything -- the manager is not going to be the difference between winning it all and losing in Cincinnati in the next year or so -- but if I were Bob Castellini I'd investigate buying out the last year on Dusty's deal and finding a young teaching manager to keep around until the team has a plausible case for contention.

  • Behold the Red Sox' pitching depth

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    Penny, Smoltz, Paul Byrd. Tell me, wasn't the Red Sox' strength supposed to be their deep, deep starting pitching talent?

    In case Brad Penny's start last night did not convince you the Red Sox are a little light on starting pitching now, a late-breaking development should have nailed that case shut for you. In the waning moments of the Red Sox' 6-4 loss to the Rays, team officials notified the media that Paul Byrd had been signed to a minor league deal.

    Good luck with that. And good luck against the Yankees with John Smoltz on the hill. Maybe Theo will sign Jose Lima in the closing innings of that one. Unlike Byrd, at least some other teams have recently found him to be desirable.

  • Brian Giles' legal problems may go away soon

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    Remember the ugly business with Brian Giles and the palimony suit and the physical abuse and all of that? Some of it may be going away soon:

    The attorney for Brian Giles' ex-girlfriend has asked to be dropped from her $10 million palimony suit against the Padres outfielder, citing a breakdown in communication with his client.

    Cary Goldstein, whose aggressive tactics often irked the Giles team, wrote in court papers that he and his client, Cheri Olvera, "are not able to communicate effectively." He also said Olvera has not complied with certain terms of their retainer agreement.

    Olvera sued Giles last year, accusing him of a string of abuse while they were together. Some of her claims were corroborated with witness statements, including from a Phoenix bar in August 2006.

    While there are a lot of reasons a lawyer might withdraw from a case like this, when he or she cites "breakdown in communication" with the client, it usually suggests something that goes to the heart of the case. Things such as the client being a whack job or disingenuous or the evidence not really materializing or what have you. It also makes it really, really hard for the client to find a new lawyer. At least a decent one, because no one else wants a part of that kind of trouble. Upshot: the lawsuit against Giles may go away pretty soon.

    Not that this exonerates Mr. Giles in any way, because that video of the incident in Phoenix -- not to mention Giles' guilty plea to misdemeanor domestic violence charges -- speaks for itself, and quite loudly at that.

    So, Brian Giles: still a scumbag for abusing a woman, but possibly close to being out of the legal woods.

  • Yankees designate Cody Ransom for assignment

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    In the first couple of weeks of the season there were a few rogue writers out there who suggested -- based on the steroids stuff and the Selena Roberts book more than anything else -- that the Yankees were better off without Alex Rodriguez, and that a scrappy and clean young man like Cody Ransom would do just fine, thank you. I'm guessing no one will own up to that commentary now:

    Given the versatility of the newly acquired Jerry Hairston Jr., it seemed unlikely that the Yankees would have room for backup infielder Cody Ransom much longer. And so the team did the inevitable on Wednesday, designating Ransom for assignment and replacing him with a fresh arm for the bullpen, right-hander Anthony Claggett . . . Designating Ransom may have been an obvious decision, but it was not an easy one for the Yankees. Though he struggled at times, Ransom nonetheless bailed the Yankees out of a tough spot when starting third baseman Alex Rodriguez had surgery on his right hip this spring, allowing Ransom to take over the starting job and hold it as best he could.

    "As best he could" amounted to hitting .190/.256/.329, which wouldn't cut it for a utility infielder in the mid-60s. So, while he didn't tip off the signs to the other team, do steroids, make hundreds of millions of dollars, kill sportswriters' puppies, break up marriages, and otherwise serve as history's greatest monster, he was no real replacement, or even a real backup, for A-Rod.

  • Attention RSS readers (and others who are curious)

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    If you read Circling the Bases via RSS feed (a) you're very savvy and forward-thinking; and (b) you're going to need to change the URL for the feed as of today.

    Why? Because while we're not making a giant deal out of this, CTB is changing its URL to go along with some other changes which we hope will make us a lot more user friendly. Going forward, use this URL for RSS feeds. You may have also noticed that the URL for the site as of today is http://ctb.nbcsports.com/. That's ultimately going to change to bases.nbcsports.com in the next day or so, but both of those will get you here from here on out. The Newsvine URL is gonna die, though, so don't say we didn't warn you.

    If you're one of those unfrozen caveman blog readers like me who are confused and frightened by RSS feeds, make a note of the new URLs and, if in doubt, just access CTB via the NBC Sports main page. Because NBC Sports is never, ever wrong.

    Except when it is

    .

  • And That Happened: Wednesday's scores and highlights

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    Reds 4, Cubs 0: Justin Lehr? Really? The same Justin Lehr making his second career start at the age of 32? The same Justin Lehr who hadn't previously pitched in the majors since 2006, and was really, really bad when he did that? The same Justin Lehr who the Reds signed in 2007, sold to the freakin' Korean league, signed again with the Reds later in the year, was let go again and allowed to sign with the Phillies, then the Reds traded for AGAIN back in May? The same Justin Lehr who had someone updating his Wikipedia page with news of this shutout against the Cubs (CG SHO, 4 H, 4K, 1BB) mere minutes after the game went final? For Pete's sake, you gotta love baseball.

    Phillies 7, Rockies 0: I don't think that anyone was truly serious about moving J.A. Happ out of the rotation in lieu of Pedro Martinez, but to the extent there was even a hint of chatter on this point, it needs to stop now (CG SHO 4 H, 10K 2 BB). Well, maybe. Damn, it's gotta be good to be a Phillies fan right now.

    Brewers 4, Dodgers 1: Game story: "The final meeting of the season between the teams was played with a heavier-than-usual presence of security personnel stationed between both clubhouses before and after the game. Usually there is one security guard in front of each door. This time, there were five on the Dodgers' side and eight on the visitors' side." Prince Fielder behaved himself, but he was seen searching for a wheelbarrow and a holocaust cloak between innings, so there was genuine reason for concern.

    Tigers 4, Orioles 2: Edwin Jackson gave up a two-run homer to Adam Jones in the ninth on his 117th pitch. Until then, however, it was cream cheese (8 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 8K).

    Diamondbacks 4, Pirates 3: Ross Ohlendorf left with a lead, but the pen couldn't hold it for him. From the game's scoring summary in the 8th inning: "S Drew singled to center, C Tracy and A Romero scored, S Drew out stretching at second." Drew probably should have stretched before the game or at the very least kept his foot on the bag while stretching in the 8th.

    Indians 8, Twins 1: Minnesota threw five guys out there -- Liriano, Dickey, Keppel, Mijares and Guerrier -- with names that sound like they belong to partisans in some European civil war or something. In fact, I'm pretty sure those were the names of the five main characters from a Hemingway novella I read back in college. I'm blanking on the title right now and don't have time to check, but trust me, those are the dudes. Keppel was a German defector -- once a mid level Weimar bureaucrat -- unhappy with the sinister influence that had come to his homeland and trying to find meaning in the world. Liriano had been close with Franco in their youth, but suffered a falling out over a woman, and now no man truly knows the reason why he fights. Dickey -- the narrator -- was a laconic American expatriate with a deep secret. Mijares and Guerrier, often mistaken for brothers, but unrelated, had met in France after the Great War and formed a life bond. At the risk of giving away the ending, I'll say that it was sad to see those two die in each others arms, their chests pierced by the same Fascist bullet, even if we knew it was inevitable from the first chapter which foreshadowed their doom. Why yes, I was drinking a little last night as I wrote this. Why do you ask?

    Rays 6, Red Sox 4: Bad night all around for the Sox as first Penny gets beat up (6 IP, 6 H, 5 ER) and then Jason Bay leaves the game with a hamstring injury. Sutcliffe made this one as unwatchable as usual. I didn't click off, however, until the promos for the upcoming games were announced: we're watching the Sox tonight, we'll get the Sox on Sunday, and then the Sox on Monday. ESPN: Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is Red.

    Yankees 8, Blue Jays 4: It was all chips and gravy for the Jays until the seventh, but then Swisher homered, Cano doubled, Matsui knocked him in, Molina walked, then Damon knocked in Matsui and Texeira knocked in Molina. Now come the Red Sox. They get Smoltz first, so there's a good chance that the winning streak gets stretched to four.

    Braves 6, Padres 2: Tommy Hanson is from San Berdoo (did the mullet tip you off?), so this was kind of like homecoming for him. Kevin Kouzmanoff was far more welcoming, however, as he hit into three double plays, including one that got Hanson out of a tight spot in the first. The Braves had 14 hits, every one of them singles, which is not something you see every day.

    Nationals 5, Marlins 4: Wow, four wins in a row for for the Nats. Back to back homers by Zimmerman and Dunn in the first set the tone.

    Giants 10, Astros 6: You really aren't living right if you give up ten runs on 13 hits to the Giants. Joe Martinez wins his first ever major league start. Eli Whiteside, filling in for Molina unit #3VH162, which required some routine maintenance, hit a grand slam.

    Mets 9, Cardinals 0: Jonathon Niese tore his hamstring -- like really tore it and needs it repaired with surgery -- and is now done for the year. Man, it's tough to be a Met this season. His teammates weren't fazed, though, and put the hurt on the Cards. Angel Pagan did a lot of the hurting, going 3-4 with four RBI.

    Mariners 11, Royals 6: I still can't fathom why Posnanski wants to give up getting paid to watch this team play every night. I mean, he'll probably still watch them, but now he'll do it for free.

    Athletics 7, Rangers 5: Adam Kennedy, Scott Hairston, Kurt Suzuki and Cliff Pennington all went yard for Oakland, with Kennedy's two-run blast serving as a difference maker in the sixth. Dallas Bradan was supposed to start but didn't because he "had a swollen left ankle, which developed from a rash caused by a Neoprene guard used to protect his big toe when pitching." I hate it when that happens.

    White Sox 6, Angels 2: HI MY NAME IS JI

    JIM THOME

    AND I HIT TWO HOME RUNS IN THIS GAME.

  • Looks like the end of the line for Mark Prior

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    This probably won't come as a surprise to anyone, but Mark Prior has been released:

    The San Diego Padres have released right-hander Mark Prior, whose once-promising career has been interrupted by two shoulder surgeries since April 2007. Prior had signed a minor league contract with the Padres in January. General manager Kevin Towers said the Padres didn't see enough progress with Prior's rehab to believe he could help the big league club this season.

    You'll recall that there was a time when people said -- erroneously, it turned out -- that Mark Prior had perfect mechanics and was a can't miss kind of guy.

    People are saying much the same thing about Stephen Strasburg now. Sure, we probably know more about such things in 2009 than we did in 2002, but not so much that we can say that young pitchers are anything short of a crapshoot.

  • ESPN cracks down on social networking

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    Forgive a brief, non-baseball detour here, but if you read to the end, I think you'll find that this impacts the way you get your baseball news.

    Yesterday our older bloggy sibling, Mike Florio, reported that the San Diego Chargers fined a player for complaining on Twitter about the quality of the food at training camp. I thought that was kind of harsh and used at as a jumping off point to explain why I think the culture of professional baseball, for all of its faults, is simply more, well, human, than the culture of football.

    A similar study in contrasts can be seen in the media, where we here at NBC are getting all Twitter happy, while some folks elsewhere in the media universe are less encouraged. Here's ESPN's Ric Bucher, via Maury Brown, breaking the news of the Worldwide Leader's new policy regarding employees' use of social media:

    "The hammer just came down, tweeps: ESPN memo prohibiting tweeting info unless it serves ESPN. Kinda figured this was coming. Not sure what this means but . . ." Bucher added, "My guess is I can still tweet about my vacation/car shopping, etc. Which I will do, if I can. But the informal NBA talk is [probably] in jeopardy."

    While I would normally chalk this up to typical corporate employee control, Mike's recent work regarding ESPN's curious blackout of sports news that may not comport with the network's commercial interests suggests that this is more about message control.

    I know people's mileage tends to vary when it comes to Twitter -- I'm still a holdout for various reasons -- but it strikes me that one of the basic choices you have when it comes to sports media is to get information from folks who view it to be their duty to provide you with information about sports rather than folks who are only allowed to provide information which "serves" an increasingly conflicted corporate interest.

    UPDATE: Mike has the whole policy here.

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