2009's best 'comeback' seasons

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Because everyone likes a good comeback story.



Chris Carpenter: After being sidelined for much of the past two seasons following Tommy
John surgery, Chris Carpenter has not only become a near-lock as the NL
Comeback Player of the Year, but he could be in line for his second Cy
Young, as well. Carpenter finished the regular season at 17-4 with a
league-best 2.24 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP (2nd in NL). Only teammate Adam
Wainwright had more wins while only Dan Haren had a lower WHIP. 22 of
his 26 starts were Quality Starts (or 79% of the time — tied with Zack
Greinke) — only Tim Lincecum (81%) and Felix Hernandez (85%) did it more often. Imagine what he could have done if he didn’t miss
nearly five weeks with a rib cage injury? Wow.




Aaron Hill: The Blue Jays weren’t quite sure what they were getting when Aaron
Hill showed up to Spring Training this season. After all, he was
working his way back from post-concussion symptoms that limited him to
just 55 games in 2008. However, the 27-year-old Hill blistered the ball
from the start, batting .365/.412/.567 with five homers and 20 RBI in
April. He finished with a .286/.330/.499 line, leading all major league
second basemen with 36 homers (3rd in AL) and 108 RBI (5th). Only
Alfonso Soriano (38 in 2003, 39 in 2002) hit more home runs in a
season at the position in American League history. The Jays have tons
of problems to address in the offseason, but Hill and Adam Lind aren’t among them.




Scott Podsednik:
This is the kind of comeback story you can root for. Scott
Podsednik’s future in the majors looked uncertain after he was released
by the Rockies during Spring Training on the heels of a lousy
.253/.322/.333 line in 2008. He eventually signed on with the White Sox
in mid-April, and after spending a couple weeks with Triple-A
Charlotte, the 33-year-old outfielder returned to the majors when the
team’s center field options fizzled out. It didn’t take long for him
to secure a stranglehold on the job, batting .304/.353/.412 with seven
homers (most since 2004), 48 RBI (most since 2003), 30 stolen bases
(7th in AL) and 75 runs scored in 132 games. Chone Figgins will
probably be too rich for the White Sox blood during the offseason, so
look for “Scotty Pods” to return as the club’s leadoff hitter with a just reward in hand.




Justin Verlander: It’s easy to forget that Justin Verlander’s 17 losses were
tied with Barry Zito and Aaron Harang for the most in the majors last season. It
looked like he was headed for the same fate this season when he started
at 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA over his first four starts. However, he has been
one of the most dominant starters in the majors over his past 30 starts, going 19-7
with a 2.92 ERA. He kept the Tigers postseason hopes afloat on Sunday,
allowing three runs over 7 2/3 innings, tying C.C. Sabathia and Adam
Wainwright for the major league lead in victories. He was a true
workhorse for the Tigers in 2009, logging a major-league high 240 innings. The
26-year-old fireballer was tops in the league with 269 strikeouts while
his 20 games of eight strikeouts or more tied him with Tim Lincecum.




Todd Helton: Todd Helton’s chronic back condition reduced him to just 83 games in
2008, batting a career-worst .264/.391/.388. After undergoing
arthroscopic surgery last September, he opened the 2009 season with
serious questions about his durability and just how the surgery would
affect his performance at the plate. While he’ll never touch the same
historic on-base totals of his prime, he came pretty close in 2009,
batting .325./416/.489 with 15 homers and 86 RBI. Incredibly, he
managed to play in 151 games this season. His .904 OPS still placed him
among the top-15 in the league. The Rockies have to feel a little bit
better about the roughly $36 million they owe him over the next two
seasons.

Dodgers clinch NL’s top seed, West title with win over A’s

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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Wrapping up an NL West title has become routine for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but in a year in which no one was sure three months ago if there would be a baseball season, manager Dave Roberts wanted his team to still savor the moment.

The Dodgers clinched the NL’s top postseason seed and eighth straight division title Tuesday night with a 7-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics. They are third team to win at least eight straight division titles, joining the Atlanta Braves (14 straight from 1991-2005) and New York Yankees (nine straight from 1998-2006).

“To fast forward a couple months and be crowned NL West champs is a credit to everyone. It should never be taken for granted,” Roberts said. “Truth be told a lot of guys didn’t know we could clinch. We were responsible but I let it know that it has to be appreciated.”

The Dodgers, who own the best record in the majors at 39-16, were the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff berth on Sept. 16. They will open postseason play on Sept. 30 by hosting every game in a best-of-three series against the No. 8 seed.

Los Angeles came into the day with a magic number of two and got help with the Angels’ 4-2 victory over the San Diego Padres.

Instead of a wild celebration on the mound after Jake McGee struck out Sean Murphy for the final out, players briskly walked out of the dugout to celebrate with teammates. Everyone grabbed a division clinching shirt and cap before heading to the mound for a group photo.

The clubhouse celebration was also muted. Champagne was still involved, but it was players toasting each other with a glass instead of being showered in it.

“We talked about it instead of dumping stuff on people. It’s a moment you need to celebrate and we did,” said Corey Seager, who had three hits and one of Los Angeles’ four home runs, “It stinks not being able to do champagne and beer showers because some of the younger guys haven’t been able to experience that.”

Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and AJ Pollock also went deep for Los Angeles, which leads the majors with 104 home runs.

“This whole year has been weird. There’s no other way to describe it,” Muncy said. “It’s sad not to be celebrate as usual but we know there is a lot more at stake.”

Dustin May (2-1) went five innings and allowed two runs on three hits. The 22-year-old red-headed righty set a team record by not allowing more than three earned runs in his first 13 career starts, which include 10 this season.

Robbie Grossman homered for Oakland, which clinched its first AL West crown in seven years on Monday during a day off. The Athletics, in the postseason for the third straight year, currently are the AL’s No. 3 seed.

Mark Canha had two of Oakland’s five hits.

Seager tied it at 1 in the first with an RBI single and then led off the fifth with a drive to center off T.J. McFarland to extend LA’s lead to 6-2.

Muncy gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead in the third inning with a two-run homer. Taylor and Pollock extended it with solo shots in the fourth off Oakland starter Frankie Montas (3-5).

Grossman quickly gave Oakland a 1-0 lead when he homered off the left-field pole in the first inning. Sean Murphy briefly gave the Athletics a 2-1 advantage when he led off the third with a walk and scored on a wild pitch by May with two outs.

Montas, who allowed only four home runs in his first seven starts, has given up six in his past three. The right-hander went four innings and yielded five runs on seven hits with a walk and three strikeouts.

“They’re a pretty good team that when you make mistakes, they make you pay,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “They’re pretty good laying off and making you throw it over the plate. They made Montas pay, unfortunately.”

Cody Bellinger added two hits for the Dodgers, including an RBI single with the bases loaded in the seventh.

ATHLETICS ADVANCE

The A’s have a team text thread they used to celebrate clinching their first AL West title since 2013 during their off day Monday, when the Mariners beat Houston.

“We didn’t really celebrate too much yet. It’s exciting,” Chad Pinder said. “We wanted to do it on our own terms. We still won the division and that was our goal. It’s nice to know we’ll be playing home for the series.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Athletics: INF/OF Pinder (strained right hamstring) planned to run at Dodger Stadium and test his leg with hopes of still playing before the conclusion of the regular season. …. RHP Daniel Mengden has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Las Vegas. He was designated for assignment after being medically cleared and reinstated from the COVID-19 injured list following a positive test from Aug. 28.

Dodgers: 3B Justin Turner was scratched from the lineup less than an hour before first pitch due to left hamstring discomfort He came off the injured list on Sept. 15 and has not played in the field since Aug. 28. … Joc Pederson was in the lineup at DH after missing five games while on the family emergency medical list. Roberts said before the game that he wasn’t sure if Pederson will remain with the team during the entire postseason.

UP NEXT

Athletics: LHP Sean Manaea (4-3, 4.50) is 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA over his last five starts dating to Aug. 20.

Dodgers: LHP Julio Urias (3-0, 3.49) will make his team-leading 11th start.

AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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