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The Bottom Half

August 05, 2007

Looking ahead

Remember Rick Ankiel, the hard-throwing left-handed St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who inexplicably lost control of his pitches during the 2000 playoffs? Well, Ankiel is tearing it up in the minors and is on the verge of a call-up -- as an outfielder.

Ankiel never fully regained his ability to pitch effectively and switched to the outfield before the 2005 season. He has 31 home runs and 85 RBIs at triple-A Memphis.

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Looking back

Some may have questioned why the Minnesota Twins played their game Wednesday night about an hour after a freeway bridge collapsed near the Metrodome. The answer: Because there were already thousands of fans in the stadium.

Team officials consulted with the department of public safety and decided that sending 20,000-25,000 fans back into traffic would make matters worse. "It is a difficult situation, but it was the right thing to do to play," Twins President Dave St. Peter said.

The Twins lost, 5-3, to the Kansas City Royals and acknowledged that their thoughts were elsewhere. "Baseball was the last thing on my mind," said relief pitcher Pat Neshek, who is from Minnesota.

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It's a fact

The Pittsburgh Pirates are 44-64 and headed for their 15th consecutive losing season, which would be one short of the Philadelphia Phillies record run of 16 straight from 1933 to 1948. The Pirates haven't had a winning season since they went 96-66 in 1992, the final year Barry Bonds played there. The closest they have come was when they went 79-83 in 1997. The Milwaukee Brewers also have not had a winning season since 1992, but they went 81-81 in 2005 and are 60-51 this season.

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Minor League Report

DODGERS IN THE MINORS

ANDY LAROCHE, 3B

Las Vegas; triple A

LaRoche is again showing why he is considered the Dodgers' top hitting prospect. He batted .411 with 12 home runs and 28 RBIs during July and has hit 13 home runs in the last 28 games. He's now batting .309 with 16 home runs and 43 RBIs at Las Vegas, a year after combining for 19 home runs and 81 RBIs at Las Vegas and double-A Jacksonville. LaRoche, 24, was called up in May, but batted only .210 with no home runs and three RBIs in 38 at-bats in his first look at big league pitching. He might soon get another look in the majors, but injuries have popped up. He missed some time in June because of a shoulder injury and left Friday's game because of a back injury.

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JUAN GONZALEZ

Jacksonville; double A

Gonzalez, 25, has bounced around the minors since signing with the Detroit Tigers in 1999, playing in the Detroit, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and Florida Marlins organizations, but he may have finally found a home with the Dodgers. He rebounded from a slow start (.229 in April and May) and made the Southern League All-Star team after batting .341 with four home runs in June. He is batting .309 with seven home runs and 44 RBIs for the season and has hit three home runs in his last 10 games. The versatile Gonzalez, on pace to set career highs in nearly every offensive category, has played every position but pitcher and catcher in his professional career.

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One Up, One Down

Who's on the rise; who's slumping:

FIRST BASE

* Up: Mark Teixeira, Atlanta -- His game plan: Hit a home run in every game as a Brave.

* Down: Todd Helton, Colorado -- Seems like only yesterday he was touted as potential triple crown winner.

SECOND BASE

* Up: Kelly Johnson, Atlanta -- Addition of Teixeira has turned Braves lineup into a modern Murderers' Row.

* Down: Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee -- Batting .212 with 19 RBIs when Brewers sent him to triple A Wednesday.

THIRD BASE

* Up: Miguel Cabrera, Florida -- The only player in baseball among the top five in homers, RBIs and average.

* Down: Troy Glaus, Toronto -- Can't seem to handle the pressure of trying to hit career HR No. 273.

SHORTSTOP

* Up: Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia -- Trying to pick up the slack for injured double-play mate Chase Utley.

* Down: Mark Loretta, Houston -- His batting average has plummeted 44 points since July 1.

OUTFIELD

* Up: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels -- There was no way he was going 40 days without a home run.

* Down: Barry Bonds, San Francisco -- Hitting like he's in the dead ball era rather than the steroids era.

CATCHER

* Up: Jorge Posada, Yankees -- Four home runs and nine RBIs in five games before a knee injury knocked him out.

* Down: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Texas -- Nobody told his batting average that everything is bigger in Texas.

PITCHER

* Up: Roy Oswalt, Houston -- He's given up a total of two runs and two walks in his last three starts.

* Down: David Wells, San Diego -- This is a good time for him to drop the appeal of his suspension and regroup.

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Compiled by Peter Yoon

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