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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pineiro Sharp in Win over Royals; Iwamura a Find for Pirates

Players of the Day for Monday, March 29, 2010 American League Joel Pineiro has the Royals' number. After throwing 6 2/3 innings of 2 hit ball against them in a 10-2 Angels win, Pineiro, has gone 11 2/3 innings against the Royals over his last two starts of the Spring and allowed exactly one earned run on 7 hits. At least the Angels know who to have in the rotation whenever they play Kansas City during the regular season. In Monday's final tune-up prior to the regular season, Pineiro had good enough stuff to allow just one run, walking two and striking out a pair. With John Lackey gone to Boston, Pineiro should be able to pick up most of the slack. Last season with the Cardinals, the Puerto Rican righty was 15-12, with a 3.49 ERA. National League The Pittsburgh Pirate may have gotten a good deal when they acquired Akinori Iwamura from the Rays for righty Jesse Chavez. In Monday's 13-1 beat-down of Houston, their new starting second baseman batted leadoff and delivered a homer, two singles, 3 RBI and 3 runs in 5 at-bats. Iwamura missed most of last season due to injury, but managed to get in 69 games for the Rays, batting a solid .290 with 28 runs, 22 RBI and 9 steals in 10 tries. The Pirates were in need of both a leadoff hitter and a second baseman, so Iwamura fit like a glove. He's hitting .282 so far in pre-season for the Bucs. MLB Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates Looks like another long season in Pittsburgh. As of Monday's exhibition games, the Pirates were a game behind the lowly Nationals in Florida's Grapefruit League, a position in which Pirate teams have found much comfort over the past few years. Pittsburgh has finished dead last in the NL Central each of the last three seasons and four out of the last five. Only in 2006 did they manage to finish second-last, when the Cubs managed to supplant them at the bottom. After 99 losses in 2009, the Pirates can only look up heading into the new season, but there's not much upside to this lineup of cast-aways and no-names. The most recognizable names are probably shortstop Bobby Crosby or 3rd baseman Andy LaRoche, neither of whom hit better than .260 (Crosby was a .223 hitter), hit many homers or drove in many runs. This is a team that thrives on mediocrity. The biggest thrill for Pirates fans are the stars from visiting teams. With starters such as Paul Maholm, Zach Duke and Ross Ohlendorf - who combined for 30 wins and 35 losses, there aren't too many reasons to believe the Pirates will win with pitching and defense, and even less chance that they'll clobber people with their hitting. Regardless of what the future book has them down as (250-1), they have about as good a chance of winning the World Series as Cloris Leatchman winning a beauty pageant. Slim to none. By early May at the latest they will be in their comfort spot, looking up at the rest of the division.

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.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fausto Foils D-Backs; Wolf Howls at Rangers

Players of the Day for Saturday, March 27, 2010 American League Cleveland fans continue to get excited about the prospects for Fausto Carmona as the regular season approaches. In what is likely to be his final tune-up before the real starts a week from now, Carmona shut out the Arizona Diamondbacks on 3 hits over 7 innings of work, allowing 3 hits, striking out 3 without walking a batter. Cleveland scored single runs in the 1st and 6th innings for the 2-0 victory. Carmona has had the kind of Spring that inspires confidence. In 20 innings, spanning 4 appearances - each of them longer than the previous one - he's allow just 8 hits and one earned run, for a microscopic ERA of 0.45. Carmona went 5-12 last season, but appears to be on the verge of sending 2009 down the memory hole and re-emerging as one of the AL's top hurlers. National League Even though he'd had 3 strong starts during the pre-season, Randy Wolf entered Saturday's contest with the Rangers still seeking his first win of the Spring. Coming over to the Brewers after an 11-9 season with the Dodgers, Wolf probably thought he'd get more run support from the Brewers, but it hadn't quite worked out that way, so Wolf took matters into his own hands and shut out the Rangers' power-laden lineup for 6 innings, allowing just one hit and one walk while piling up 7 Ks. The Brewer bats responded - to a degree - scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the 6th and adding another in the 8th for a 3-1 win, and Wolf's lone decision of the exhibition season. Wolf should bolster the Milwaukee rotation when the regular season begins. He tossed 214 innings last season, so he's durable, and this Spring has allowed just 2 runs over 16 innings. MLB Preview: Milwaukee Brewers Disappointed with a 3rd place finish in the NL Central and an 80-82 record, the Milwaukee Brewers are looking to get off to a fast start in the division and wind up in the playoffs come October. All the elements are in place for the Brewers to make a serious run at a division title, though they'll likely face stiff opposition from the Cardinals, Cubs and Astros. The starting rotation appears to be set, with a veteran crew of Yovani Gallardo, Doug Davis, Randy Wolf, Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan. Gallordo is the youngest, but possibly their best starter, heading into the 2010 season. He was up and down in 2009, with a 13-12 record, but the 3.73 ERA was promising, as were the 204 Ks in 185 innings. Davis and Wolf were picked up during the off-season, from Arizona and the Dodgers, respectively, and should provide plenty of quality starts, taking some of the pressure off the bullpen. Said bullpen is anchored by 42-year-old closer Trevor Hoffman, who converted 37 of 41 save opportunities last season and doesn't seem to be slowing down, despite his age. Middle relief will be doled out to Todd Coffey, LaTroy Hawkins, Mitch Stetter, Carlos Villanueva and Claudio Vargas, with Hawkins pegged as the set-up man. Consistency on offense was an issue for the Brew-crew in 2009, with plenty of high-quality stats, but poor run production which cost the Brewers a good number of games. Relying on Prince Fielder (.299, 46, 141 in 2009) alone didn't cut it last season and won't this year, either. That's one of the reasons the Brewers went after - and got - center fielder Carlos Gomez from Minnesota, who will be flanked by dependable Ryan Braun in right and Corey Hart in left. The infield will be bolstered by 3rd baseman Casey McGehee, who displayed enough power as a rookie - 16 homers and 66 RBI in 116 games - to bat behind Fielder in the lineup. Shortstop J.J. Hardy went over to the Twins in the deal for Gomez, as the Brewers feel confident that rookie Alcides Escobar can fill that role on an everyday basis. He hit .304 last season in 34 games with the Brewers and is a solid defensive player with plenty of upside as a base-swiper and solid hitter. He might fit into the leadoff or #2 slot in the lineup. Escobar earned a slew of minor league awards over the past three seasons and is from Venezuela, the country that mines great shortstops. Ricky weeks returns at second base after playing in just 37 games last season. Healthy again, Weeks will provide good defense, along with Escobar, up the middle. He has an average bat, but some power. Behind the plate is veteran Greg Zaun. At 38, Zaun is the only regular over 27, but the youthful Brewers can depend on him for clubhouse leadership and solid handling of the pitching staff. Milwaukee is Zaun's 9th different team on his 16-season MLB odyssey. Milwaukee looks to be cranked up for opening day and a run at post-season glory. Las Vegas has them as a 50-1 shot to win it all, which seems like good odds. If everything falls into place for the Brewers, they could make a run.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Longoria Has the Stroke; Ageless Moyer on Target

Players of the Day for Friday, March 26, 2010 American League Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria hit his third homer of Spring and added two singles for a 3-for-4 effort with 2 RBI, scoring 3 times, as the Rays downed Toronto in a 14-10 slug-fest. One of the best young power hitters in either league, Longoria finished the 2009 campaign with 33 bombs and 113 RBI. He seems to be picking up where he left off, having driven in 6 runs over his past four games. This will be Longoria's thrid season in the majors. National League There was a so much talk about Jamie Moyer's ability to contribute at age 46 last year that he wasn't even on the Phillies' world Series roster, but, oddly enough, the Phils kept the ageless one on for another go 'round in 2010. Now 47, Moyer is performing like a fine wine, getting better with age. On Friday, he shut down the Yankees on one hit over 6 2/3 innings, helping the Phillies to a 3-0 win over the team that stood between them and a second straight championship. Moyer fanned six and hasn't walked a batter this Spring. In 11 2/3 innings, he's allowed just 6 hits and 1 earned run, for an ERA that has manager Charlie Manuel smiling: 0.77. Moyer is 258-195 with a 4.22 ERA lifetime and is 42-29 in three seasons with the Phillies. Maybe he's a keeper?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tulowitzki Goes Deep; 3-0 Bergesen Blanks Yanks

Players of the Day for Thursday, March 25, 2010 American League After their 2009 last-place finish in the AL East, the Baltimore Orioles would like to show some improvement, and one of the ways they plan on doing so is with better starting pitching, so they have to be pleased with the progress of 24-year-old Brad Bergesen, who picked up win #3 in an 8-0 shellacking of the NY Yankees on Thursday. Bergesen shut down the Yankees on 3 hits over 5 2/3 innings, walking two and fanning a pair. It was his longest stint of the Spring and easily his best outing. He had previously allowed 6 earning runs over 8 2/3 innings. In 2009, he went 7-5 with a 3.43 ERA in 19 starts with the O's. National League If there's a player who epitomizes the mindset of the Colorado Rockies, it's shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Notable for slow starts and strong finishes, Tulo is the kind of player who can light a fire under an entire organization with his gritty determination and gutsy, never-say-die attitude. The Rockies have treated their fans to some of the best September drama in the league over the past few years, but, if Tulowitzki's Spring is any indication, NL West teams better be ready for a battle right from opening day. Tulowitzki banged his 3rd home run of exhibition season - a three-run blast - as part of a 7-run Rockies outburst in Thursday's 10-6 win over Cincinnati. He also singled in four at-bats, raisng his batting average to a healthy .353. In 2009, Tulowitzki pounded 32 homers and 92 RBI, most of it after the all star break. The way he's going this Spring, opposing pitchers may be tired of seeing him at the plate by June. MLB Preview: Houston Astros Since 2004, when they picked up, then let go of Carlos Beltran, the Houston Astros haven't done much in terms of post-season excitement. The following season, they won the NL wild card and advanced to the World Series, only tobe humbled by the White Sox in a four-game sweep. Since then, Houston's seasons have ended around the last days of September with the end of the regular season. Following a 74-88 finish in 2009, the Astros have reason for optimism in what is shaping up as a competitive division. It all begins with a starting rotation that has the opportunity to be excellent. Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodríguez, Brett Myers, Bud Norris and Brian Moehler are likely to make up a starting five that looks solid against the rest of the league. Oswalt, coming off an unusual season in which he started 30 games but only went 8-6, looks to improve on his career marks of 137-70 with a 3.23 ERA. By his third or fourth start, he'll reach a milestone - 1500 strikeouts, but more importantly, he should continue as one of the most consistent performers in the majors. Rodriguez comes off a 14-12 season with a 3.02 ERA. With any kind of run support, Rodriguez could have won 18 or more. Mohler is still seeking to reclaim lost form, Myers arrives from Philly, and Norris could be a surprise, coming off a August-September rookie stint in 2009 that produced 6 wins and 3 losses. The Astros bullpen could also produce some positives. With Alberto Arias out with a shoulder injury, righties Sammy Gervacio, Casey Daigle and Wilton Lopez are competing for open spots. Matt Lindstrom looks to be the closer, after converting 15 of 17 opportunities into saves for Florida last season. Pitching ought to be a mainstay for Houston, because the bats aren't all that special. Left fielder Carlos Lee and first baseman Lance Berkman are true power hitters, though right fielder Hunter Pence has surprised many with 25 dingers in each of the past two seasons. Center field belongs to budding superstar Michael Bourne, who had a banner year in '09, swiping 61 bases and scoring 97 runs. After those four, though, there's quite a production fall-off. Second baseman Kazuo Matsui, shortstop Tommy Manzella, third baseman Pedro Feliz (from Philly), and catcher Humberto Quintero will provide better defense than offense. Like most teams in the NL Central, the Astros are far from a finished product, but they should be improved, especially if Arias comes back healthy and youngsters Pence and Bourne continue to improve. Pegged at 75-1 to win the fall classic seems a pretty fair price for a team that could reach the playoffs, and, with a trade or two, could try for the franchise's first championship.

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.

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.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Willingham's Pair Paces Nats; Carmona In a Groove

Players of the Day for Monday, March 22, 2010 American League Cleveland fans will be pleased to note that at least part of their pitching rotation is back to delivering solid starts. On Monday, Fausto Carmona won his second straight start, blanking the Cubs over 6 innings on 2 hits en route to a 9-2 Cleveland win. Carmona is putting up very nice numbers this Spring. In 13 innings, he's allowed just 5 hits and 1 earned run. His K-BB ratio is a pleasing 3-1, with 6 Ks and 2 walks. After an outstanding campaign in 2007, when he posted a 19-8 record with a 3.06 ERA, Carmona's numbers ballooned ovr the next two seasons. In 2008, he went 8-7 with a 5.44 ERA, but in 2009, the wheels fell off, as he compiled a record of 5-12 and a 6.32 ERA. Now entering his fifth season, Carmona appears to have regained most of his winning form. He'll be a key to Cleveland's success, though he's likely to end up as trade bait should the Indians stumble as many expect. Fausto could end up with a contender if his stuff remains sharp through August. National League Nats' outfielder Josh Willingham upped his Spring average from .300 to .391, with a 3-for-3 game, helping the Nationals win for just the 5th time against 13 losses, beating the Mets, 7-5. Willingham, who will likely be the Nationas' starting left fielder, belted a pair of homers and drove in three runs. He now has four bombs, matching his Spring training total from last year. Despite playing for a perennial loser, Willingham is a good bet to hit 25 homers and drive in 90 or so runs, providing he stays healthy, something that's been an issue the past few seasons.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Baker Mows Down Rays; Denorfia May Fit Into Padres' Plans

Players of the Day for Sunday, March 21, 2010 American League Minnesota is shaping up for another run at the AL Central, which they stole last season from Detroit in a one-game playoff. On the minds of many a Minnesotan is how well the young arms in their rotation will fare, but they needn't worry about Scott Baker, who looks like he's ready for opening day after shutting out the Rays for five innings, allowing just one hit and a walk, fanning three. The Twins didn't really need as powerful a performance as they got from Baker, as they scored 5 runs in the first inning and were up 9-0 after four en route to a 12-3 win. In four starts this Spring, Baker is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA. Last season, Baker was a bulwark for the Twins, completing 200 innings and posting a record of 15-9. National League San Diego desperately needs some hitting, though you wouldn't know it from the way they manhandled the Rangers Sunday, knocking them around to the tune of a 14-5 beating. Within the 16-hit attack was one Chris Denorfia, released by the A's, invited to attend the Padres Spring training and signed to a minor league contract, with three hits in five at-bats, one a triple, plus three RBI, 2 runs scored and his 4th stolen base of the Spring. Hitting a respectable .385, Denorfia is battling a handful of players for outfield positions with the Padres, but he has one great advantage: he is equally at home be it in right, center or left. Also, his speed makes him a leadoff candidate in the batting order. With a .278 lifetime average in 100 major league games, Denorfia could fit right into San Diego's lineup and provide some timely hitting and a burst of speed from time to time. MLB Preview: Atlanta Braves The Braves have fallen on lean times of late, as Florida and especially the Phillies seem to have taken the NL East as their own. In 2005, the Braves won the division, but since then have finished 3rd, 3rd, 4th and 3rd, but this year may have put together a squad that can challenge in the division again. As usual, the Braves will have plenty of live arms in their rotation. Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson provide a nice balance of youth and experience, and should keep opposing hitters guessing, particularly if Lowe comes around big. The fifth spot in the rotation still looks to be up for grabs, but Atlanta has some options, especially in their farm system. The bullpen should be solid in the late innings, with Takashi Saito or Kenshin Kawakami setting up closer Billy Wagner. Around the horn, the infield of Troy Glaus, Omar Infante, Yunel Escobar and Chipper Jones should be solid defensively and capable of providing quality offense at the plate. Escobar continues to develop into an exceptional hitter, with his home runs and RBI increasing each of the last three seasons. Glaus and Jones should provide some power, though less than other clubs, but the Braves have a real treat in Brian McCann behind the plate. He's averaged over 20 home runs and 90 RBI over the past three seasons. In the outfield, Nate McLouth fit nicely into center field after arriving from Pittsburgh last season. He has all the tools, and could be on the verge of a breakout season. Flanking him are Matt Diaz in right and Melky Cabrera - from the Yankees, via free agency - in left. This is a good, young outfield, an area not necessarily of strength, but one where there are few worries. If everything falls into place for Atlanta, they could be back in the playoffs for the first time in five years, which might make the oddsmakers in Vegas look prescient as they have them pegged at a mere 12-1 to win the World Series.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gallardo's Homer, Shutout Work Earns W; Hafner Goes Yard Again

Players of the Day for Saturday, March 20, 2010 American League After displaying extraordinary power in his early years, Travis Hafner was injured in 2008 and limited to just 5 home runs, had shoulder surgery prior to the 2009 season and hit just 16 homers last season, but a 3-run blast in Cleveland's 12-4 romp past Oakland raised some eyebrows and hopes that Hafner is fully recovered from shoulder surgery. It was Hafner's second homer of the Spring, and they came in successive games. The Indians sorely need Hafner's big bat. From 2004 through 2007, he averaged 31 homers and 108 RBI. National League Yovani Gallardo earned his second win of the Spring, blanking the Royals on 4 hits over 5 innings. Gallardo walked 2 and struck out three, and lowered his ERA to 2.57 over 14 innings of exhibition work. The Brewers eked out a 1-0 win thanks to Gallardo's solo homer in the 3rd inning. In 2009, Gallardo appeared on the verge of becoming a stopper for the Brewers, going 8-7 with a 3.22 ERA prior to the all star break. However, he tailed off toward the end of the season, as the Brewers fell out of contention. His second half record of 5-5 included a ballooning ERA of 4.56. Gallardo will have to prove he can remain strong for an entire season before he makes the leap to being one of the league's elite throwers.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

KC's Anderson Goes for Cycle; Mora Adds Value to Rockies

Players of the Day for Friday, March 19, 2010 American League Brian Anderson will probably never forget the first four innings of Friday's exhibition game against Arizona. Diamondbacks pitchers are already trying to forget it. Anderson, a right fielder who spent the last four seasons with the White Sox, went to the plate in each of the first four innings and by the end of the 4th, he had hit for the cycle. The Royals led 17-0 after 4 and won the game by the footballish score of 24-9. Anderson drove in two runs with a triple in his first at-bat, then added another RBI with a double in the second. His single in the third inning, he singled home two more and then belted a two-run homer in the 4th, completing the cycle in his first four at-bats. Anderson singled once more, finishing 5-for-5, with 7 RBI and 3 runs. A few of his teammates also had banner days. Mike Aviles went 4-for-5 and scored 4 times. 3rd baseman Josh Fields doubled and singled twice, driving in five runs. The Royals banged out 27 hits against Arizona, which used 7 pitchers to little avail. National League At 38, Melvin Mora still has value, especially as a utility infielder with a potent bat. In Friday's 10-4 win over the A's, Mora was manning second base, a position to which he'll become well-acquainted in his new Colorado home, driving in two runs and scoring twice with a double and single in 3 at-bats. Mora will be a backup to multiple players in the Rockies' system, but his versatility and experience add some nice dimensions to a team seeking to win the NL West. After ten years with the Orioles, Mora came over to the Rockies as a free agent. MLB Preview: Florida Marlins In 2009, the Marlins chased the Phillies almost all the way to the wire, but, finishing with a record of 87-75, they, like the Rangers in the AL with the same record, were the best team in the league that didn't make the playoffs, finishing 6 games behind the Phillies and 5 behind Colorado in the wild card race. Florida comes back in 2010 prepared to do battle in the rough NL East, with the Phillies once again the favorite to capture the division flag, counting on youth, pitching and Hanley Ramirez to get them into the post-season. Shortstop Ramirez, easily the best player on the Marlins lineup, had an excellent year at the plate in 2009, batting .342 with 24 homers and 106 RBi. Though his home run total was down a bit, the RBI and average wer both career highs. Ramirez also swiped 27 bases, though he's running far less-often than he did in his first few seasons. Joining him in the infield are Dan Uggla at second, who's been steady and solid at the plate, averaging 30 homers and 90 RBI in four seasons with Florida. Jorge Cantu and Emilio Bonifacio are at the corners. Bonifacio had a fair season as a rookie in 2009, and has earned the starting job. Chris Coughlan, Cameron Maybin and Cody Ross will be the likely starting outfielders. None of them has significant upside, but all can cover ground and occasionally be productive at the plate. The lack of a power hitter in the outfield may be a bit of an issue for the Marlins, though, with their power coming from short and second, they are built a little differently than most major league clubs. The pitching staff of Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sánchez, Chris Volstad and Rick VandenHurk has plenty of potential and could be the surprise of the National League. Nolasco, who spent years between starting and relieving, came on late in 2009, posted a 15-9 record and struck out 195 batters. Johnson, considered by many to be among the best young arms in the business, went 15-5 with a 3.23 ERA and 191 Ks. If Johnson and Nolasco prove to be true horses, the rest of the rotation has to be just a little better than average for the Marlins to flourish. Leo Nunez took over the closer job in 2009, and will probably open as the Florida closer, though he blew 7 saves in 33 chances last season. The middle relievers are nothing special, but may be able to work with plenty of rest if the starters stay healthy. Florida doesn't overwhelm with power hitters or all-star pitching, but they manage to be in contention just about every year and 2010 will be no different. with solid pitching and strong seasons from Ramirez and Uggla, they could unseat the Phillies in the division. At 30-1 odds to win the World Series, the Marlins may be worth the wager.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hammel Looking Good for Rockies; Snider Bangs Two for Jays

Players of the Day for Thursday, March 18, 2010 American League There will be plenty of fresh faces in Toronto this season, the franchise going for a youth movement and austerity last season losing most of their best, and highest-paid, players to free agency or trade, the most notable being Alex Rios and Roy Halladay. One of the bright prospects for the Blue Jays actually saw plenty of action last season for Toronto. That would be outfielder Travis Snider who batted .241, with 9 homers and 29 RBI in 79 games as a rookie. In Thursday's 16-hit, 13-3 blasting of the Orioles, the Jays went over the wall six times, with Snider belting two homers and driving in four runs. Teammate John Buck also cashed twice, with Chris Lubanski and Aaron Hill also leaving the yard. For all the high-profile departures the Jays have suffered, they're actually have a nice Spring session, with an 8-5 record, good for 5th place in the Grapefruit League. National League Colorado's Jason Hammel improved to 2-0 for the Spring, giving up 4 hits and one earned run over five strong innings, as the Rockies downed the Mariners by a 9-2 score. Hammel struck out 6 Mariners, giving him an even dozen Ks for the Spring, to go with his very acceptable ERA of 1.93 over 14 innings of work. Last season, Hammel went 10-8 for the Rockies and is expected to be part of the rotation in 2010. MLB Preview: Washington Nationals If anything is for sure entering the 2010 baseball season, it's that the Nationals will not be competitive in the NL East. The last-place Nats were out of the running early in 2009, and, after posting a record of 59-103, not losing 100 games this time around will be a major goal for one of the most-understaffed teams in the league. The Nationals are playing about as well as the politicians are managing the government in D.C., so maybe it's fitting that Americans can point to them as an exemplar of all that's wrong in our nation's capitol. With the addition of rookie Stephen Strasburg, pitching may be Washington's strong suit, though it won't help much if the offense - arguably the least-productive in the majors - fails to produce runs. Strasburg, a phenom drafted #1 by the Nats, can bring it at speeds in excess of 100 MPH, which should provide some thrills for otherwise depressed fans. He joins Jason Marquis, John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang and Scott Olsen on a rotation that has plenty of experience and an overall winning record, though most of those wins belong to Wang and Marquis, primarily earned while they were respectively with the Yankees and Cardinals. Going .500 or better with the Nationals would be quite a feat for any of the starters. The best every-day players are third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and second baseman Christian Guzman. Zimmerman could start on just about any major league team. His 33 homers and 106 RBI were high marks on the team last season. Guzman is a solid hitter but slumped to a .284 batting average last season after hitting .328 and .316 in 2007 and 2008, both with Washington. Joining the team at first base is Adam Dunn, who is good for 30 homers and 150 strikeouts. Josh Willingham, Willie Harris and Justin Maxwell man the outfield posts, which isn't saying much. Aging Ivan Rodriguez will probably play 120 games behind the plate, and the Nationals will experiment with rookie Ian Desmond at short. Should Washington need to close out games (not an ordinary occurrence), Matt Capps is capable, getting saves in 28 of 33 such opportunities in 2009. Washington's odds to win the World Series are a mere 200-1, though certainly better odds, ranging up to 1000-1 can probably be found. Getting to the post-season would be something of a miracle for Washington, so save your money.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cruz, Rangers Bash Mariners; Gwynn Stars in 16-14 Slugfest

Players of the Day for Wednesday, March 17, 2010 American League The Texas Rangers are already at it. Banging out 4 homers in their 8-1 beating of Seattle, the Rangers put on a power display that's become commonplace over the past couple of years. Nelson Cruz smashed a pair of blasts, plus a single, drove in three runs and scored three. Chris Davis and Josh Hamilton also provided yard work, each hitting their second home runs of the Spring. A favorite of Texas fans and fantasy players alike, Cruz delivered 33 home runs and 76 RBI in 2009. He also swiped 20 bases, a bonus. National League Spearheading a 15-hit, 16-run assault on Kansas City pitching, Tony Gwynn singled, doubled and tripled in 4 at-bats, scoring 3 runs and driving in 3 from his leadoff position. San Diego held on to win, 16-14. One of the more recognizable names on the Padres roster, Gwynn, son of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn (so shouldn't he be called Jr.?), will be the padres' regular center fielder in 2010, hoping to bring some speed to the top of the order. Notes: 30 Runs and No Homers? Yesterday's titanic struggle between the Royals and Padres, ending in a 16-14 win for San Diego (the Padres avoided blowing a 12-run lead by only allowing 3 runs in the 7th and 7 in the 8th), points up two distinct problems with both teams: no pitching and no power. Between the two teams there were 30 hits allowed, but no homers. They did combine for 10 doubles and 3 triples, however. MLB Preview: Philadelphia Phillies Finishing their season by falling to the Yankees in the World Series was not exactly the ending the Phillies had in mind, but it wasn't all that bad, either. Over the past three seasons, the Phillies have been the best the National League has to offer. They captured the NL East flag three consecutive seasons and have gone on to the World Series each of the past two years, winning it all in 2008, beating the Rays in five games. The usual cast of characters returns pretty much intact for Philadelphia. Ryan Howard at first, Chase Utley at second and shortstop Jimmy Rollins will welcome Placido Polanco to complete the infield at third base. Polanco came over from Detroit as a free agent. His addition gives Philly the best infield in the National League. With an abundance of power in the infield, Philadelphia's outfield also ranks among the best in the majors. Raul Ibanez in left and right fielder Jayson Werth - fast becoming one of the league's most fearsome power hitters - flank center fielder Shane Victorino, who, despite his diminutive stature, plays with a big heart and can track down almost anything hit his way. Not satisfied with just an explosive offense, the Philly pitching staff also ranks as one of the best in the league. After getting Cliff Lee to augment the rotation in 2009, they shipped him off to make room for one of baseball's pre-eminent power pitchers, Roy Halladay, whom they acquired via free agency in the off-season. Halladay, a Cy Young winner in 2003, has spent the past 11 seasons toiling in the relative obscurity of Toronto, never reaching the post-season. With the Phillies, he now has the opportunity to shine under the big lights of the playoffs. Halladay leads a very capable rotation of Cole Hamels, JA Happ, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick. The bullpen has exceptional depth, including middle relievers J.C. Romero and Danys Baez in addition to set-up men, Ryan Madsen and Chad Durbin. All of that pitching leads inexorably to Brad Lidge, who was lights out in 2008, but suffered some setbacks in 2009. A rebound in his form would make the Phillies almost a certain lock to not only capture their division for a 4th straight year, but a good bet to return to the fall classic. The additions of Halladay and Polanco show how serious the front office is about putting a high-quality product on the field. There is no weakness anywhere, and that strength come through in the future book, where the Phillies are at 6-1 odds to finish the 2010 season as world champs.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tampa Trio Blanks Red Sox; Harris Triples, Homers for Nats

Players of the Day for Tuesday, March 16, 2010 American League Now, if Tampa pitchers can do this during the regular season, they'll be in the race. Dan Wheeler shut out the Boston Red Sox for an inning, working between four shutout innings by both starter Wade Davis and finisher, Andy Sonnanstine. All together, the trio combined for 9 scoreless innings, 4 hits and 10 Ks in a 7-0 win. Davis (left), who projects to be the Rays' fifth starter, allowed 3 hits and a walk, fanning five. Wheeler worked the 5th, didn't allow a hit, walked one and struck out 2. Sonnanstine (right) mopped up, so to speak, hurling four quality innings: 1 hit, no walks, 3 Ks. Tampa has been impressive during the Spring, leading the Grapefruit League with a 10-3 record. Atlanta is second, at 9-5 National League The Washington Nationals normally don't have much to cheer about, but every now and then, Willie Harris provides some excitement, like he did in Tuesday's 12-3 romp over the Marlins, cranking out his first home run of the Spring to go with a triple and 4 RBI. The 2-for-4 effort improved Harris' batting average to .333, which is probably a high-water mark. In the past two seasons with the Nationals, Harris has batted .251 and .235, numbers which fit snugly around his career average of .246. The win was just Washington's 2nd in 13 tries, placing the Nats in a position they're used to: last place in the Grapefruit League. 2010 is already shaping up to be another long summer in our nation's capitol. MLB Preview: NY Mets The Mets suffered through one of the worst seasons in their history, and there have been some bad ones, though few can compare to the injury-riddled campaign of 2009 that left the NY franchise 23 games behind the division-leading Phillies, their 4th place, 70-92 finish the worst since 2003. Besides injuries to their top sluggers, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, base-stealing specialist Jose Reyes, also their leadoff hitter, played in just 36 games, spending most of the season nursing a hamstring injury. The pitching staff was spotty, as Oliver Perez suffered through a knee injury most of the season, and other starters and relievers made frequent visits to the DL. With the new year come new hopes and some new faces, but the same issues are already cropping up again. Beltran, who returned to the lineup in September of last year, needed more surgery and will miss at least the first month of 2010. Delgado has undergone a second hip surgery that will sideline him until at least June. He is a free agent and retirement is also a possibility. Reyes has been diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid, will miss the first month of the season at least, and his return will depend on his physical condition, which, at present, isn't very good. The good news is that the Mets signed Jason Bay away from Boston. He'll play left field and should be able to pick up where Delgado left off. Jeff Francoeur, who arrived mid-season from Atlanta, had a pretty fair year in '09, will play right field and has a solid bat. He batted .311, with 10 homers and 41 RBI in 75 games last season. Rod Barajas (from Toronto) will be a regular behind the plate. He hit 19 homers for the Blue Jays last season. Until Beltran returns healthy, center field is in good hands with Angel Pagan, who hit .306 in 88 games last season. His 14 steals were also promising. Alex Cora will man short until Reyes returns, with Luis Castillo at second. The corners will be manned by David Wright at third and Daniel Murphy at first. That pair were among the few who played virtually all of last season, but Wright suffered a power outage in '09, hitting just 10 round-trippers after banging out 33 in '08. Pitching appears to be a strength. Starters Johan Santana, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez are all healthy and can usually give 6 to 8 strong innings. Kelvim Escobar was supposed to be the set-up man for Francisco Rodriguez - one of the best closers in the game - but he's been having shoulder issues, so the fifth starter and much of the bullpen remains unsettled. If Bay and Wright produce, and Reyes and Beltran come back early enough, the Mets may have a fighting chance in the division, though the Phillies are the team to beat and the Marlins and Braves will be competitive. At 20-1 to win the World Series, the Mets don't look like a championship squad, but they should at least improve over last year and finish above .500.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Is Ramon Ready?: Dickerson Dings A's

Players of the Day for Monday, March 15, 2010 American League There was an unfamiliar face on the mound for the Dodgers after Vicente Padilla was scratched from his scheduled start: Ramon Ortiz, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 10 relief appearances in 2007 with Colorado. Attempting to come back as a part of the Dodgers' rotation, Ortiz sparkled in a 4-0 win over the Angels, allowing 4 hits and no runs in 4 complete innings, striking out 5 Angels in the process. Word around camp is that Ortiz could make the squad, possibly in the bullpen, as his main competitor for one open Dodger rotation spot is Russ Ortiz, who has looked solid in two appearances this Spring. In any case, pitching does not seem to be an issue for the Dodgers. It was Ortiz's 3rd appearance this Spring for the Dodgers and his first start. In 9 innings, he has allowed just five hits while fanning 11 without allowing a run. He has only given up two walks. National League It seems that every Spring, there are signs of life for the Cincinnati Reds, and this season is no different. A perennial chaser in the NL Central, the Reds always show great promise that fades as the regular season progresses. In spite of the loom and doom of opening day, the Reds (5-4 in the Grapefruit League) put some talent on display against the Oakland A's on Monday, scoring 10 runs (9 earned) against starter Ben Sheets, who left the game without retiring any of the 10 batters he faced. Cincinnati's Chris Dickerson began the barrage by singling and scoring against Sheets and ended it with a 2-run homer in his second at-bat of the inning. Dickerson eventually finished the game - a 13-5 blowout - 4-for-4 with his two RBI and 3 runs. Dickerson is likely to start the season as the leadoff batter and center fielder for the Reds. In 2008, Dickerson debuted with Cincy, batting .304 in 31 games, and got more playing time in 2009, appearing in 97 games with a .275 batting average. Supposedly, he's battling rookie Drew Stubbs for the starting job, but Stubbs is batting an even .100 this Spring, while Dickerson has upped his average to .429, has the experience edge, and, as a left-handed hitter, may offer better production at the plate. MLB Preview: LA Angels After capturing their third straight AL West crown (and fifth in the past six years), the LA Angels had a pretty quiet off-season. No wonder, as they're pretty well stocked with capable hitters and live arms in the rotation and bullpen. A couple of departures are worth noting. Vladimir Guerrero has exited for Texas, so the Angels will see plenty of him in an L west rival uniform. Closer Brian Fuentes filled in admirably in place of Francisco Rodriguez (traded to Mets in 2009), and he'll have company in the form of Fernando Rodney, acquired via free agency out of Detroit. The rotation lost John Lackey, but picked up Joel Pineiro from St. Louis, who should prove out as a capable replacement. Pineiro was 15-12 with a 3.49 ERA last season for the Cardinals. Pineiro joins a group of solid starters consisting of Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir. The biggest concern for the Angels would be replacing sparkplug Chone Figgins, who goes over to another AAL West opponent, Seattle. As a thrid baseman, Figgins was adequate, though not special. Maicer Izturis will attempt to take over at the hot corner. Filling out the infield are three players who have emerged through the Angels farm system: Eric Aybar at short, Howie Kendrick at second base and Kenrdy Morales at first. All three had breakout years in 2009, especially Morales, who batted .306 with 34 homers and 108 RBI. The power of Morales will be augmented by DH Hideki Matsui, who arrived via free agency from the Yankees, and their trio of outfielders: Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu, each of whom can go long at any time. Abreu had 15 homers in 2009; Hunter, 22; Rivera, 25. The Angels will have more competition in the division this season as both Seattle and Texas have made moves which should improve their overall play. The Rangers finished 10 games behind the Angels last year. Seattle was 12 back. Winning four straight division titles in any sport is a high achievement, though the Angels would like to do more. They haven't been to the World Series since 2002, the year they won it. Their main source of frustration these past seven years has come from the AL East, in the form of Yankees and Red Sox. At 14-1 in the World Series future book, the Angels would seem to be worth a shot, though even if they survive the challenge from within the division, the Yankees would likely be their opponent for the AL title. Looks like a productive year, but eventually another frustrating one, awaits the Angels.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Upton Tearing It Up in Spring; Slowey Perfect Over Three

Players of the Day for Sunday, March 14, 2010 American League Despite the possibility that closer Joe Nathan could be lost for the season, the Minnesota Twins are optimistic about their prospects in 2010, mostly because they have some very live, young arms in their starting rotation. One of those youngsters is Kevin Slowey, who got his second start of the Spring facing Boston on Sunday. The Twins lost the game, 6-4, but it certainly wasn't Slowey's fault, as the 6'3" righty held Boston batters hitless over the first three innings of the game, striking out four. Slowey sat after that, leaving his Spring marks at 8 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs and 8 Ks. In three seasons with the Twins, Slowey is 26-14, with a 4.39 ERA. He only pitched 90 innings in 2009, compiling a 10-3 record before going on the DL in July. Later, he had bone chips removed from his right wrist, but looks to be fully recovered, a very positive sign for Twins fans. National League If the Diamondbacks are going to improve from last year's last-place finish in the NL West, one of the players that will make a difference is Justin Upton. On Sunday, Upton got his swing into a groove against Texas pitching, helping the D-Backs down the Rangers, 9-3. Upton banged out his 3rd homer of the Spring, added a couple of singles, drove in three runs and score three times, boosting his pre-season totals to .367, 3 homers and 13 RBI in 8 games. The Arizona right fielder is just 22, but is expected to have a banner year. Last season, he hit an even .300, knocked 26 home runs and drove in 86 runs in 138 games. If his Summer is anything like his Spring, expect to see Justin Upton in the All-Star game. MLB Preview: Texas Rangers For the better part of the 2009 season, the Texas Rangers were chasing the LA Angels for the AL West title. They never got there, as the Angels got hot in September while the Rangers faded. Their finish at 87-75 was only good enough for second place in the division, 10 games back and well short of the wild card, but the Rangers signed Vlaimir Guerrero away from LA and hope to capture the division in 2010. As usual, Texas will have plenty of offense. Along with Guerrero, who will DH most nights, the Rangers boast a lineup chock full of dangerous hitters. Along with Guerrero, there are 6 position players capable of hitting 20 or more home runs. In the infield, 1st baseman Chris Davis, 2nd baseman Ian Kinsler and 3rd baseman Michael Young each did it in 2009. Kinsler was second on the team with 31, behind outfielder Nelson Cruz (33), who returns along with a healthy Josh Hamilton and David Murphy, who knocked 17 out of parks in 2009. Throw in rookie Julio Bourbon, who is fighting for a starting outfield job and the Rangers appear to have a bona fide murderers row for a lineup. Unless injuries decimate their starting players, the Rangers should lead the league in homers and RBI, as well as pitchers who don't want to face them. Shortstop Elvis Andrus provides plenty of speed at the top of the lineup. He swiped 33 bases as a rookie in 2009, being caught only 6 times. Pitching is the area in which the Rangers hope to improve. Kevin Millwood went to Baltimore, but Texas grabbed Rich Harden, who will likely be the #1 starter. Scott Feldman (17-8) and Tommy Hunter (9-6) each had solid seasons in 2009. Brandon McCarthy is expected to fill out the rotation. Frank Francisco took over the closer role in 2009, and converted 25 of 29 save chances. He will be the closer to start the year, but the Rangers have other options should he falter early on, including Neftali Feliz and Chris Ray. With a glut of power and a respectable pitching staff, the winter future book odds of 30-1 that the Rangers win the World Series, may be a worthwhile wager.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Perez Guns Down Tigers; Posada Always at the Ready

Players of the Day for Saturday, March 13, 2010 American League Some players just come pre-wrapped, ready to play, like the Yankees' Jorge Posada, who rapped three singles, drove in two runs and score one himself in NY's 5-3 win over the Orioles. Posada will turn 39 in August, but he's having the Spring of somebody half his age, batting .375 in six games this season. A rarity, Posada has been with the Yankees his entire career, since playing a single game with New York in 1995. His numbers are not earth-shaking, though he is on track to record his 1000th RBI this season. He ended 2009 with 964. National League Oliver Perez worked four hitless innings, allowing just two baserunners via walks, as he battled Detroit's Matt Scherzer (4 innings, 1 hit, 5 Ks) though the start of the an eventual 9-1 Mets triumph. After joining the Mets in August, 2006, and posting a 1-3 record, Perez turned things around, going 15-10 in 2007 and 10-7 in 2008 before being injured and starting just 14 games in 2009 with a 3-4 record. Injuries decimated the Mets in 2009, affecting not just the pitching staff, but regulars as well. If Perez is fully recuperated along with 6 or 7 other key teammates, the Mets pose a considerable challenge to the Phillies in the AL East. Thus far, health has not been an issue in the Mets' training camp. MLB Preview: Seattle Mariners Through a slew of trades and acquisitions during the off-season, the Seattle Mariners hope to have made the moves that will make them a contender in the AL West rather than an interested observer. A late 2009 fade left Seattle helplessly in third place, watching as the Angels romped home for their third straight divisional title. Gone are some of Seattle's stand-byes from the previous 4-5 years: 3rd baseman Adrian Beltre went to the Red Sox; 1st baseman/DH Russell Branyan (and his 100+ annual strikeout total) was shipped to Cleveland, and catcher Kenji Johjima retired from MLB and then signed a deal in Japan. Those moves made way for Chone Figgins (from the Angels) to take over at 3rd, Kasey Kotchman (from Boston) to set up at first, and either Rob Johnson or Josh Bard (free agent from San Diego) to handle duties behind the plate. Whoever emerges as the go-to catcher, he'll have plenty with which to work. The Mariners picked up a blue-chipper in Cliff Lee, who left the Phillies after a short stint in 2009 after being traded from Cleveland. He'll be the #1 or #2 starter depending on whether Felix Hernandez continues to progress or suffers setbacks. Hernandez broke out in 2009, going 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA and 217 strikeouts in 238 innings. Entering his sixth season - all in a Seattle uniform - Hernandez is on track to vie for the Cy Young award. The remaining starters - Ian Snell, Nick Hill and Ryan Rowland-Smith - are a mixed bag, with Snell being the most promising, but the rotation could receive a significant boost is Erik Bedard can return to the form he displayed with the O's before coming to Seattle. Beset by injuries, Bedard had major shoulder surgery in August and is still on the recovery path. Should he come back healthy - even by mid-season - the Mariners should be in a position to contend down the stretch. All of these positives convinced Ken Griffey Jr. to delay retirement another year. Griff, a certain Hall of Famer, still has some swat in his swing. He knocked 19 round-trippers and drove in 57 runs in just 387 at-bats last season. He will be the every day DH. Leading off will be another perennial all-star, Ichiro Suzuki, who will remain the right fielder, flanked by Franklin Gutierrez (.284, 18, 90) in center and the emotional Milton Bradley (acquired in a trade from the Cubs) in left. The offense won't be overpowering, but at least more than adequate. Defensively, the Mariners may have the best outfield trio in the division. Defense will also be solid up the middle with Jack Wilson at short and Jose Lopez at second base. The defense will be important for the relief staff which also looks to be excellent. Projected closer David Aardsma will be preceded in games by Brandon League, Mark Lowe, Shawn Kelley and Josh Fields, all players with closer potential and experience in hold situations. It looks like an up year for the Mariners, which would put them squarely in the AL West mix after going 85-77 last year. That was the 7th-best record in the league, and, even though they finished in 3rd place in their division, they were only two games behind Texas. Making the post-season may require winning the division, however, as both the Angels and Rangers appear solid and a slew of other teams - the Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, White Sox and Tigers - are all eyeing either division crowns or the coveted wild card. Seattle's dropped from 125-1 down to 50-1 in the World Series future book, and might even be a bit of an overlay at that price. Winning the division is not out of the question, while the wild card could come up aces for the pitching-rich Mariners.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wellemeyer Blanks Rockies; Rios Off to Great Start for Sox

Players of the Day for Friday, March 12, 2010 American League Alex Rios went from Toronto to the White Sox in late August of last season, but didn't really measure up to expectations as the Sox finished well behind detroit and minnesota in the Al Central division. 2010 may be a different experience for Rios, who is off to a solid start in Spring training. In Friday's 10-7 win over the Angels, Rios doubled and smacked his second home run of Spring, drove in a pair of runs and scored twice, while Jake Peavy was proving his mettle with 3 scoreless innings to start the game. Rios should provide a solid bat wherever he is placed in the lineup and his defense will be critical in center field. Not noted as a power hitter, he could blossom this season, as he's reaching the pinnacle of his career at age 29, plus, he's an imposing figure at the plate, standing 6'5". National League Since they are somewhat offensively-challenged, the San Francisco Giants will likely depend upon great starting pitching in order to stay competitive in the NL West. If the Giants can get some quality innings out of Todd Wellemeyer, that would be a huge boost, since they already have capable arms in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Barry Zito. In Friday's 9-2 win over Colorado, Wellemeyer got his first victory of the Spring with four scoreless innings to start the game. Allowing just two hits, the 6'3" righty didn't record any strikeouts, but he also didn't walk a batter, displaying excellent control of all his pitches and good mound presence. The Giants are Wellemeyer's 5th team (Florida, Cubs, KC, St. Louis), and, with a career mark of 29-29, 2010 looks to be his break-out or break-down season. If it's the former, the Giants should remain in the divisional hunt into the final weeks. So far this Spring, the Giants have shown some grit, with a 7-1 record in the Cactus League. MLB Preview: Oakland A's Oakland faded badly in the second half of the season, ending up in last place in the AL West, 22 games behind the Angels. It's been a long time since the A's have done much of anything, and the merits of Billy-ball and Sabremetrics are under increasing scrutiny as the team has floundered and the stands have emptied. The A's like to snatch up players which other teams cast off, picking up potential stars via the waiver wire and drafting relative unknowns. It hasn't been going too well of late. They've only been to the post-season once since 2003, and even though they beat the Twins 3 games to none in the 2006 ALDS - their first series win since 1990 - 2009 marked their worst season since 1998. Some of the A's issues can be traced to the emergence of the Angels as a powerhouse franchise in the division, but mostly, it has to do with fielding a sub-par product through the long MLB season. It seems that second-rate prospects turn out to be just that and a solid team needs at least a smattering of star power to succeed. Peering up and down the A's starting lineup, there's only one recognizable name, that being Jack Cust, and he's a DH. while Cust is generally reliable for 20-30 homers in a season, his .239 career batting average dulls his star. Second baseman Mark Ellis could probably start in other cities, but after that, there's not much in the way of offensive punch. That's surely going to hurt, since the pitching staff is led by Ben Sheets and a list of no-names with a combined W-L record of 63-67, most of that belonging to #4 starter, Justin Duchscherer. Oakland will get some quality starts from their staff, but the middle relief is questionable. They may have struck gold with 2nd year closer Andrew Bailey, who converted 26 of 30 save opportunities in his rookie year. Unfortunately, he isn't likely to get the ball very often with the A's and could become serious trade bait come August. The A's don't have much of a shot of winning the division as the Angels and Rangers appear the teams to beat in the West. even Seattle has made moves that could put them in the hunt. The 125-1 odds in the future book are probably overly optimistic.