Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pavano Mows Down Red Sox; Cain Stymies White Sox

Players of the Day for Tuesday, March 22, 2010 American League For the second time this Spring, Carl Pavano picked up a win over the Boston Red Sox, as his Twins teammates scored all of their runs in the first three innings and Pavano shut out the Sox on 2 hits over five innings for a 7-2 win. Pavano's excellent control was on display, as he induced pop-ups and ground-outs from the Red Sox batters, walked just one and recorded a lone strikeout. He's only had one poor outing - against St. Louis - where he allowed 3 earned runs in 3 innings. Outside of that, he's been sensational, allowing just 4 hits and 1 earned run over a 15-inning span. If he can maintain that solid form through the start of the season and keep the ERA down from his career average of 4.44, Pavano may provide a welcome boost to the Twins in the contentious AL Central. National League The San Francisco Giants have been causing quite a stir down in Arizona, compiling an impressive 16-6 record in the current exhibition season. As the Giants prepare for the real thing in two weeks time, their pitching staff has been coming around very nicely, especially 5th-year veteran Matt Cain, who bounced back from a poor outing against Oakland last week, working 6 2/3 innings Tuesday to top the White Sox by a 6-1 score. Cain allowed just 3 hits in his 4th Spring outing, walking one while fanning 2. The only Chicago run against him was unearned. It was Cain's best start of the Spring and has teammates and fans alike anticipating a fast start for the Bay area boys. A stalwart last season with a 14-8 record which included 4 complete games, Cain gives the Giants a great #2 starter behind ace Tim Lincecum. MLB Preview: Chicago Cubs Will this be the season the Cubs finally break through and win the World Series? Las Vegas oddsmakers think they have a shot, making them a 14-1 choice to win it all. The reality on the field will determine if the Cubs have the players and motivation to emerge from the scramble that is the NL Central division, in which the Cardinals, Astros, Reds and Brewers all have reasons to be optimistic. After juggling their lineup considerably in 2009 and finishing in second place, 7 1/2 games behind St. Louis and 8 1/2 behind Colorado in the wild card race, the Cubs will probably have more stability at the top of the order, as shortstop Ryan Theriot has stamped his claim to the leadoff spot, batting .284 with 21 steals and 81 runs scored last year. Having both Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez healthy might have helped the Cubs considerably last year, and the team hopes to have them both in the lineup more often in 2010. Soriano played in just 117 games; Ramirez missed roughly half of the season. When they play an entire season, both of them are good for 25 homers and 100+ RBI. Missing that much punch from the everyday lineup was a drag on the Cubs last season, so keeping the power guys healthy will be key to their success. Derek Lee at first, Mike Fontenot at second, and the improving Geovany Soto behind the plate completes a very solid defensive infield that can also produce at the plate. In the outfield, Soriano will man left, with Kosuke Fukudome in right and Marlon Byrd, cast for from the Rangers, in center. Byrd had a very productive season in Texas prior to taking the free agency route. In 2009, he hit .283 with 20 homers and 89 RBI. He, along with Fukodome (.259, 11, 54) give the Cubs plenty of options. Byrd is apparently the choice to fill the #2 slot in the lineup, replacing Fukodome and probably dropping him down to 6th. Chicago's pitching staff revolves around the fiery Carlos Zambrano, who, when on his game, is one of the most dominating mound presences in the league. Zambrano was also injured for part of 2009, compiling a pedestrian 9-7 record. In 2008, however, he was 14-6. He has the tools to be a 15-20-game winner if he stays healthy and keeps his emotions under control, a difficult task for the 6'5", 255-lb. hurler. The rest of the starters - Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Randy Wells, Tom Gorzelanny and Carlos Silva - are about ordinary, though Lilly had some moments last season, and he gives the Cubs a solid left-hander as a #2 starter, though he's not going to be ready to go until mid-April at the earliest. Dempster's been the most productive over the last two seasons, going 28-15 combined after re-emerging from the bullpen. Gorzelany's battled injuries the past two seasons, and he's another guy who could come up big if he stays injury-free. Silva gives them maneuverability as a 5th or spot starter, but the real issue remains in the bullpen, where the Cubs are weighing their options. Carlos Marmol is likely to be the closer, though blowing 4 of 19 chances in 2009, wasn't didn't exactly endear him to Cubs' fans. If he succeeds in nailing down wins, the issue still remains in long relief and set-up guys, where John Grabow and Sean Marshall seem to be the best at holding down leads. The Cubs can certainly compete in the division, but, after 102 years without a championship ring, there is sure to be plenty of hand-wringing in the Windy City this season.

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