Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tracy Powers Cubs to 12-1 Win; Beckett Fans 9 as BoSox Roll

Players of the Day for Wednesday, March 24, 2010 American League Josh Beckett was bringing it against the overmatched Pirates, as he fanned 9 batters in 5 innings en route to a 6-1 Boston win and Beckett's first decision of the Spring. After allowing a first-inning solo homer by Pittsburgh's Jeremy Ferrell, Beckett settled in, at one point blowing the ball past 7 of 9 batters. After five full innings, he allowed just the one run on three hits and a pair of walks. It was Beckett's 4th start, but his first win, and definitely his best effort thus far. Prior to this, the rangy righty had worked only 8 1/3 innings and allowed 5 earned runs. Beckett was 17-6 for the Sox last season with 199 Ks, his highest total in 8 major league seasons. He also worked more innings - 212 - in 2009 than in any prior year. National League After spending six seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chad Tracy signed a minor league deal with the Cubs, as a bit of insurance should Aramis Ramirez or Derek Lee suffer injury. In Chicago's 12-1 pounding of the Rangers on Wednesday, Tracy proved he was worth the reported $900,000 (if he makes the major league roster) with a pair of doubles and 5 RBI. Tracy's bat probably won't get much use during the regular season, though he could provide some extra power as a DH in inter-league games. Tracy can play first or third, but hasn't been a regular starter since 2006, when he hit 20 homers and drove in 80 runs. MLB Preview: Cincinnati Reds The biggest knock on the Reds is probably that their manager, Dusty Baker, has done nothing in 2 1/2 seasons guiding the Cincinnati franchise. Having received unusually high praise as the manager of the Giants (1993-2002), his career has been in nosedive mode ever since. In three seasons as manager of the Cubs, he helped guide one of the best Cubs teams in decades to the NL championship in 2003, only to lose to the Marlins. He fell short with the Cubs in 2004 and 2005, and is widely believed to be the cause of derailing the careers of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior by overusing the two starters. The same criticism was leveled against Baker in 2008, for apparently putting too much strain on the youthful arm of Edinson Volquez, who was 17-6 in 2008, but started only 9 games in 2009, his season cut short by injury. He is still rehabbing from elbow surgery and is not expected to be a part of the roster until June. With Baker guiding the Reds, anything better than 4th place - where they ended last season, at 78-84 - would be remarkable. Having Volquez on the bench for the start of the season places more pressure on the remaining starters, especially Aaron Harang, who is supposedly their ace, though his record over the past two seasons is a miserable 12-31. Since Harang worked 231 innings in 2007, the first year under Baker, going 16-6, the same logic could be applied in his case: overworked, and subsequently, a decline in wins. The stud of the starters is Bronson Arroyo, though his 4.43 lifetime ERA doesn't inspire much confidence. Homer Bailey is a strong, young starter, and Johnny Cueto needs more seasoning. Last year he gave up a few fewer home runs (24) than he did in 2008 (29). Micah Owings, who may be better as an outfielder and hitter, fills out the rotation. Owings carries a lifetime .300 batting average into the 2010 season, to go with his 21-29 record and 5.08 ERA. The Reds' offense doesn't scare anyone, with Joey Votto and Scott Rolen the power players at the infield corners. Up the middle, second baseman Brandon Phillips (.276, 20, 98, 25 steals) may be the team's best all-around player, while shortstop Orlando Cabrera provides a slick glove but little at the plate. Projected to start the season in the outfield, the trio of Wladimir Balentien in left, Drew Stubbs in center and Jay Bruce in right may be the weakest in the majors. In 2009 Bruce was .223, 22, 58; Stubbs, .267, 8, 17 in 42 games; and Balentien, .264, 3, 11 in 40 games. Ouch! don't expect much production from these guys. What the Reds do have is an excellent closer. Francisco Cordero cashed in 39 of 43 save opportunities in 2009 with a 2.13 ERA. Too bad he won't get many more chances in the upcoming season. With odds of 100-1 (should be higher) to win the World Series, the best thing that could happen to the Reds is to start the season with a record of something like 3-23, or 6-31, fire Baker and get a real manager in the clubhouse, preferably one that isn't a racist, too.

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