Monday, March 29, 2010

Nolasco 1-Hits Astros; Martinez' 4 Hits Lift Boston

Players of the Day for Sunday, March 28, 2010 American League When Victor Martinez was traded from Cleveland to Boston last year, he cried over the thought of leaving the team that brought him to the major league, but the tears haven't stopped him from being one of the best hitters in the league. All he did for Boston last season was hit .336 with 8 home runs and 41 RBI in 56 games, helping the Red Sox win the wild card by a wide margin. He's picking it right up down in the warm Florida sun, and apparently finding his best stroke with opening day just a week away. On Sunday, Martinez raised his batting average from .262 to .319, with a 4-for-5 effort, 3 RBI and 4 runs, as the Red Sox banged out 16 hits in an 11-5 win over Minnesota. Though only one of the hits went for extra bases - a double - they came in run-producing situations, which is where Martinez should be, batting 3rd or 4th in the Boston lineup in 2010. Martinez isn't crying any more about where he lives or plays, though opposing pitchers are. It looks like he's found a long-term residence in the Red Sox lineup. National League Last season, Florida pitcher Ricky Nolasco started out with a 1-6 record, but finished in awesome fashion, going 12-3 from June 18 to his final start of the year, a 5-4 win over Atlanta in which he struck out 16 in 7 2/3 innings. Though Nolasco's 2009 season was a success by most standards, his 5.09 ERA bothered many, though he lowered it from a ridiculous 8.17 after that sixth loss. This Spring, the Florida righty set out to disprove his skeptics, and, by all accounts, he's done so, as his fifth and final start was a memorable 1-hit performance spanning 7 1/3 innings in a 4-0 win over the Astros. Nolasco put down the first 16 batters before allowing a Jason Castro single to right with one out in the 6th. By the end of the stint, Nolasco's numbers are appealing: 25 1/3 innings, 17 hits, 5 runs, but, get this, 21 Ks and just 1 walk, to go with a 1.71 ERA. MLB Preview: St. Louis Cardinals Having Albert Pujols, arguably the best player in the major leagues in the lineup every day, the St. Louis Cardinals are going to be a post-season threat for many years. Since 2004, the Cardinals have won the NL Central four times, missing the playoffs in the two years they didn't take the division - 2007 and 2008 - and they're looking to grab the top spot for the second straight season. If Pujols is the meat of this team, the pitching staff is the potatoes. With Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter at the top of the rotation, the Cards have one of the best 1-2 combos in the majors. Wainwright went 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA and 212 Ks, while Carpenter rebounded off two injury-plagued seasons to go 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA in 2009. To fill out the rotation, the Cardinals plucked Brad Penny from the Giants via free agency, kept Kyle Loshe after a disappointing season, and are hoping rookie Jamie Garcia can fill the void at #5. Garcia has been impressive this Spring, allowing just 5 hits and 2 earned runs in 12 1/3 innings, though his 4 outings have been limited to 4 innings or less. The bullpen has a nice mix, including Dennys Reyes, Kyle McClellan and Trever Miller, set up men to get to closer Ryan Franklin, the surprise of the 2009 season, who notched 38 saves with a 1.91 ERA. Around the horn from Pujols at 1st are Felipe Lopez and Julio Lugo up the middle and rookie David Freese at third. Freese projects as a solid bat with some pop, who could end up batting anywhere from second through sixth in the lineup. Capable Yadier Molina handles behind-the-plate chores. Outfielders Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus and Ryan Ludwick combined for 51 dingers and 204 ribbies in 2009, but Holliday, the best hitter of the bunch, only played in 63 games. They will be productive in 2010. The Cardinals are going to be competitive in a division which appears to be a wide-open, four-team scramble. If St. Louis intends to win back-to-back division crowns, they'll have to defeat Houston, Milwaukee and a revamped Cubs squad to do so. After 6-1 Philly, the Cardinals came in a 8-1 to take home all the glory according to the Vegas future book, a dicey proposition considering the competition within the division.

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