Lance Berkman now aiming to return from knee surgery next week

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Lance Berkman said this afternoon that he’s hoping to return from knee surgery for the Astros’ six-game road trip that begins Monday. “I had it in my mind I would like to be back in that series, anyway,” Berkman told MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart. “I’m not guaranteeing it … but I’m starting to feel better and that is a possibility.”
Berkman underwent arthroscopic surgery on March 13, received a cortisone shot on Opening Day, and then had his knee drained Monday for the fifth time, saying: “For the first time I feel it is heading in the right direction.” However, some of his other quotes suggest it may take a while before he’s back at full strength:

Getting out of bed is a lot easier, and that helps and makes you feel better. I don’t have to consciously pick my knee up with my hands and stick it in the bed. I can get in now without any assistance. As far as baseball stuff, it feels a lot better than it has, and it’s not as swollen. I can bend it a lot easier.

Houston’s lineup will be bad even with a healthy Berkman, but they’ll be downright terrible offensively if he struggles to get back on track or needs another stint on the disabled list. After all, Geoff Blum and Pedro Feliz have batted fifth in the lineup while replacing him at first base through three games, which is all kinds of silly.
They scored two runs against Tim Lincecum on Opening Day, were shut out yesterday against Barry Zito, and currently have one run through six innings against Matt Cain this afternoon. Obviously the pitching matchups will get easier, but Houston ranked 14th among NL teams in scoring last year and things don’t figure to be much different this time around. They may need a healthy Berkman just to avoid finishing with fewer than 75 wins for the third time in four years.

Magic Johnson says the Dodgers will win the World Series

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Baseball, as we so often note around here, is unpredictable. Especially when it comes to the playoffs. You can be the best team in the land for six months but a few bad days can end your season once October hits.

In 2001 the Seattle Mariners won 116 games in the regular season but lost the ALCS to the Yankees, four games to one. In 1906 the Cubs won 116 games in a 152-game season and lost the World Series. In 1954 the Indians won 111 games in a 154-game season and lost the World Series. In 1931 the Philadelphia A’s won 107 games and lost the World Series.

More recently, with the advent of expanded playoffs, the chances for the team with the best record to win the World Series have been pretty dang terrible. Since the beginning of the wild card era, only five times has the team with the game’s best record gone on to win the World Series: The 1998 and 2009 Yankees, the 2007 and 2013 Red Sox and the 2016 Cubs. That’s it.

At the moment, the Los Angeles Dodgers have baseball’s best record. They’re 71-31 and sit 12 games up in their division. Their playoff chances are almost 100%. The above examples notwithstanding, if you had to make a prediction as to who might win the World Series, it would not be unreasonable to pick the Dodgers. Sure, you’d want to make sure they got Clayton Kershaw back by early September or thereabouts to make it a safer prediction, but it’d be a totally defensible pick. Maybe even the one most people make.

But it’d be the utmost in magical thinking to presume that one could make such a prediction with any degree of certainty, right? The Los Angeles Times, however, passes along some Magical thinking:

Magic Johnson called his shot Thursday night, and he wasn’t shy about it. The Dodgers’ co-owner did not hesitate when he predicted how the team would finish this year.

“The Dodgers are going to win the World Series this year,” Johnson said. “This is our year.”

The headline calls it a “guarantee.” I don’t know if I’d call it that — I think it’s more of a confident prediction — but it is a bold statement whatever you call it.

If I had to pick one team at the moment — and we could assume a healthy Clayton Kershaw — I suppose I would make them my World Series favorites too. And, yes, if I had an ownership interest in the Dodgers, I’d probably say what Johnson said.

But given the example of history, I think “field” would be a much safer bet.

Mariners trade Steve Cishek to the Rays for swingman Erasmo Ramirez.

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The Tampa Bay Rays have acquired reliever Steve Cishek from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for reliever Erasmo Ramirez.

Cishek had appeared in 23 games this season for Seattle after recovering from major offseason hip surgery. He’s 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA, with a 15/7 K/BB ratio in 20 innings. He’s a setup man right now, but he has experience as a closer, saving 25 games for Seattle last year and as many as 39 back when he pitched for the Marlins in 2014.

Ramirez has appeared in 26 games for the Rays and has started eight games. He’s 4-3 with a 4.80 ERA and a 55/16 K/BB ratio in 69.1 innings. This will be his second stint with the Mariners, having played for them from 2012-14.

Sort of a surprising deal given that both Tampa Bay and Seattle are competing for a wild card spot, but needs are needs.