Jose Lopez was an All-Star?
Lopez has not only rebounded with superb play in 2008, but the Venezuelan also has succeeded in the difficult task of transforming former queries about his character into bullet-point statements on his behalf. That Lopez guy starts every day. He cares about winning. Jose Lopez was an All-Star.
"I'm not going to congratulate myself. This season is not over yet," said Lopez, an All-Star in 2006. "We are still trying to win as many games as we can. Right now, I can't worry about what the Angels are doing or Oakland or Texas. We have to finish these last 25 games strong."
Lopez has a point. He also has a good game. But one question stands out this season. Who knew?
Lost in a disappointing season in Seattle is a career year by Lopez and a standout season at second base by any standard. He is among American League leaders in several offensive categories at his position and only seems to be improving. He already has more errors this season (12) than last season (nine), but he has cut down on the mental lapses and is starting to make most of the plays expected of him.
"I think even Raul [Ibanez] has been overlooked a little bit nationally and certainly Lopez," Mariners manager Jim Riggleman said. "That's the nature of it. The individual honors will generally follow the team honors. Our team has had the year that is not going to draw a lot of positive attention to itself."
Lopez's numbers speak for themselves. They have to. Nobody else is saying a word. He's hitting .295 with 12 home runs and 76 RBIs, the most among second baseman in the American League. He's among the top five American League second basemen in hits, doubles and total bases and sixth in hits and runs scored.
"I'm not out here trying to get attention, I just want to help my team," Lopez said. "I'm not bothered or think about that at all. I just want to do my best."
Lopez says all the right things, but what about his body language? Critics say Lopez moves around on the field like he's lost at times and seems to lose focus. He's not fiery enough. Riggleman says if you are reading Lopez's body language, you are likely reading it incorrectly.
"One of the greatest competitors I ever had when I was coaching was Darren Dreifort, and he would kick his feet around and hang his head around the mound, and that's just what he did," Riggleman said. "He would take his time getting back up on the rubber, but he was a great competitor. He was a physical specimen ... an animal, but he projected an image that he was beaten. Sometimes Jose can project that image of looking down, not bouncing around, but we watch him every play, and he's in a good position every play when the pitch is made."
Lopez's success is not by accident. He has made an effort to be more involved with his teammates in the clubhouse and his coaches in between innings. Lopez asks a lot of questions about game situations and opposing pitchers. He also takes extra fielding practice before games to work on his range.
Lopez also credits his offseason regimen and his preparation during Venezuelan Winter League play for his success. He suits up for the Cardinales de Lara every year and will likely play for them again this winter.
"I showed up to Spring Training in good shape, and that's because of all the work I did in Venezuela," Lopez said. "I love playing there. There's good competition and good pitching. It has helped me tremendously."
Lopez's season is almost good enough to make Seattle forget about its woes. The last-place Mariners are 30 1/2 games behind the first-place Angels in the American League West and the only team in the American League eliminated from playoff contention.
Questions about Lopez are now directed in his favor.
"I can't say what happened to our team because I don't have an answer," Lopez said. "It's just part of the game. Everybody is trying to win, and I'm giving 100 percent when I'm there. We just had a disappointing season."
For once, Lopez didn't have an answer.