Monday, March 8, 2010

Twins Blank Yankees, 11-0; Crosby Dings One for Pirates

Players of the Day for Sunday, March 7, 2010 American League Juan Portes hit a grand slam and a two-run homer, driving in six of Minnesota's 11 runs in an 11-0 whitewash of the NY Yankees. Playing for AA New Britain last season, the 24-year-old Portes batted .297 with 6 home runs and 40 RBI. A utility infielder and outfielder, Portes is versatile in the field and is attempting to catch on with the Twins as a bench player. Despite the power surge on Sunday, Portes is not usually regarded as much of a home run threat. If he doesn't make the Twins oening day roster, he'll likely end up back at New Britain or with AAA Rochester in the International League. National League Bobby Crosby smacked a 3-run homer and drove in 4 runs in Pittsburgh's 15-5 split-squad win over the Minnesota Twins. Crosby, who won the AL Rookie of the Year award with Oakland in 2004 and spent the next five years with the A's, was dealt to the Pirates in the off-season. Much of his 6-year career has been spent on the DL, including parts of last season when he played in just 97 games and batted a career-worst, .223. Normally an infielder, Crosby is hoping to fill a spot at shortstop for the Pirates, where he's battling Ronny Cedeno for the position. It's an iffy situation, as Crosby doesn't hit for a high average and his range in the field is questionable, but, his three hits in 9 at-bats so far this season are hopeful signs. MLB Preview: Detroit Tigers The Tigers are probably still feeling a bit of the sting from missing the playoffs in 2009 and they will face challenges from the White Sox and Minnesota (last year's AL Central champ) in 2010. On September 6 of last season, the Tigers had just finished consecutive sweeps of Cleveland and Tampa Bay and riding that six-game winning streak looked to be a lock to take the division. Their lead over the 2nd place Twins was 5 games, but the Tigers had played well enough against Minnesota that a near-split in the upcoming 7 games remaining with them would still ensure a comfortable lead heading into the final week. The Tigers did win 3 of those 7 games with the Twins, but went 11-15 down the stretch while the Twins went 17-8, and were caught on the second last day of the season, forcing a one-game playoff at Minnesota - which just happened to be the very last game ever played in the Metrodome - and lost it when the Twins rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win, 6-5 in 12 innings. Detroit will have to overcome the drain of emotions from their late-season collapse and come together if they are to win the division in 2010 and that's no easy task. Parts of the team are back from last year, including first baseman Miguel Cabrera and right fielder Magglio Ordonez, but second baseman Placido Polanco, a career .303 hitter, went to the Phillies, and leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson was traded to the Yankees, in part, for Johnny Damon, who will take over right field duties. That leaves second base to Ramon Santiago, a capable glove-man but not much with the bat, and center field to a battle between rookie Austin Jackson and Clete Thomas, who batted .240 with 7 homers and 34 RBI in 102 games last season. Adam Everett will take over at short and Brandon Inge remains the 3rd baseman. The fall-off offensively is going to put more pressure on Cabrara, who has been rock-steady since coming over from the Marlins two years ago, especially if Ordonez doesn't bounce back from last season's power outage. Ordonez, normally a 20+ homer and 110 RBI kind of guy, batted .310 last season, but only hit 9 long balls and drove in a sickly 50 runs. Like it or not, the loss of power in Magg's swing might have something to do with the clampdown on steroid use. The pattern is pretty obvious, and there's no other good explanation for the his sudden lack of explosiveness at the plate. Six weeks into the season should be enough time to evaluate his expected effectiveness, though by then, the Tigers had better be in the heat of the race or it could get ugly for them. DH Carlos Guillen, who missed half of last season with a sore shoulder, is expected back healthy and capable of providing much needed power behind Cabrera. Pitching is Detroit's strong suit, with Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Rick Porcello and Nate Robertson all returning to one of the AL's best rotations along with Max Scherzer, who was acquired from Arizona in the off-season. The bullpen boasts strong arms in the likes of Joel Zumaya and Zach Miner, but closer Fernando Rodney left via free agency and the Tigers nabbed Jose Valverde from the Astros. If the pitching holds up and the hitters are just above average, the Tigers could excel in the division because there's really no dominant team. If Ordonez gets some of his power back and Jackson becomes the everyday center fielder, they will be right in the mix and a favorite to capture the division crown. That's a lot of if's, however, so the Tigers are by no means a lock in baseball's most competitive division. The Tigers are currently 24-1 to win the World Series according to the Las Vegas futures book, very tempting odds for a team that just missed last season, though they'll have to shake off the past and make some serious strides in a hurry.

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