Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Liriano Tosses 6 Scoreless; Holliday Banks a Pair

Players of the Day for Tuesday, March 30, 2010 American League For Francisco Liriano, the road back to full health has been a long and arduous one. After emerging in 2006 as a high-octane hurler, Liriano suffered an arm injury that derailed a 12-3 season and caused him to miss all of 2007 after surgery and rehab. In 2008 and 2009, he was still struggling, going 6-4 in 2008, but backtracking to 5-13 last season with an ERA of 5.80. This Spring, the velocity has returned and Liriano's K-BB ratio has improved. He's fanned 30 while walking only 5, including the 8 Ks and 3 walks issued in 6 innings of work against the Pirates, which ended up a 4-1 Minnesota win. Liriano blanked the Pirates for 6 innings, his best start of the exhibition season. For his efforts this Spring, he was rewarded, being named the Twins' fifth starter. National League Entering his 7th season in the majors, Matt Holliday has already crossed some milestones, though there certainly seems to be many more in store for him. Already over 100 hits, Holliday, always a run-producer, is 8 RBI shy of 600, and his 152 homers are fair power numbers. In the Cardinals' 9-4 win over the Mets, Holliday parked a couple of offerings - both solo shots and his first two homers of the Spring - the first of which came right after Ryan Ludwick raked a 2-run shot off Mets' starter Oliver Perez, who lasted just 2 1/3 innings and allowed 7 earned runs on 6 hits and 2 walks. Holliday homered later in the game and also scored 3 times. His batting average jumped to .308. He has a career batting average of .318, one of the best among active players. MLB Preview: Colorado Rockies Coming off a reasonably successful 2009 campaign in which they nearly tracked down the Dodgers in the NL West, the Colorado Rockies should be a contender for the division title once again. Finishing just 3 games behind the Dodgers, the Rockies captured the wild card but lost in the divisional series to the Phillies. The Rockies surprisingly came from well out of it. After a 19-28 start, they fired manager Clint Hurdle, replacing him with bench coach Jim Tracy. The moved worked magic for the Rockies, who went 73-42 under Tracy to close out the season. Even after their horrible start, the Rockies ended 2009 with the third-best record in the NL, behind LA and Philly. The 2010 edition of the Rockies comes stocked with an assortment of young players, not a lot of power, a quality pitching staff and one notable veteran: first baseman Todd Helton, who, at 36, can still deliver. He batted .325, with 18 homers and 86 RBI in 2009 and was rock-solid defensively. Around the infield, Clint Barmes mans second base, Troy Tulowitzki stays at short, and Ian Stewart plays the hot corner. Tulowitzki started slowly in 2009, but led the Rockies in homers, with 32 and RBI, 92. Chris Ianetta returns as the primary catcher, though his .228 average last season was a negative. Outfielder Seth Smith has a quiet, but productive season in 2009, banging 15 homes and 55 RBI to go with his .293 batting average. He will play left, with Dexter Fowler returning in center and Brad Hawpe in right. Fowler is the speed guy, with 27 swipes, but he needs to be more consistent at the plate (.266 in 2009). Hawpe is experienced and, along with infielders Barmes and Stewart, should be good for 15-25 homers and 70-90 RBI. Ubaldo Jiménez is the unrivaled ace of the Rockies rotation. In his third season - last year - he was 15-12, though his 3.47 ERA and 198 Ks proves he has the stuff to lead the team in wins. Behind him are four workhorses: Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa and Jason Hammel. Francis missed all of 2009 with shoulder surgery, but had a good enough Spring to be named the #2 starter. He was awesome in 2007, but suffered the injury half way though the 2008 season. His return to health and a solid performance will be critical to the team's success. Hammel was a full-time starter in 2009 and settled in nicely. Veterans Cook and De La Rosa are good for 160-200 innings. The bullpen is stacked. Closer Huston Street had 35 saves last year and he will again be fronted by Rafael Betancourt, one of the best set-up guys in the game. Randy Flores, Matt Belisle and Franklin Morales will also be called on for situational relief. The Rockies will be part of what looks to be a 4-team race in the division, with the Dodgers, Giants and Diamondbacks all pointed for strong seasons. Along with the NL Central and AL West, it's likely to be one of the most competitive divisions in the majors. The Vegas future book has Colorado slated to win 86.5 games and a 20-1 shot to take home a World Series trophy. They have a chance, but their pitching needs to hold up over the long haul.

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