Posted on: September 20, 2011 3:26 pm

On Deck: Wild card races in spotlight


By Matt Snyder

Follow the game action on CBSSports.com's live scoreboard. Also, keep an eye on the updating Playoff Race standings page.

Triple the intrigue: OK, let's set the scene. We have Tim Lincecum (13-12, 2.59) vs. Clayton Kershaw (19-5, 2.30). We also have the Giants trying to make a last-minute playoff run, as they're 3 1/2 games behind the struggling Braves in the NL wild card. On top of that, the Giants are going for their ninth straight victory. It's a triple threat. Just don't expect much scoring. Kershaw owns a career 1.26 ERA against the Giants and a 0.71 ERA in his last seven starts. Lincecum leads the majors with a 2.02 road ERA and has a 1.65 ERA against the Dodgers this season. Kershaw is looking to join Arizona's Ian Kennedy as the only 20-game winners in the NL. Giants at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. ET.

NL Wild Card: As stated, the Giants are just 3 1/2 games back in the NL wild card race, but they have a team between them on the Braves. The Cardinals are 2 1/2 out -- just two in the loss column. With less than 10 games left in the season, every game is paramount at this point. The Braves will turn to young Randall Delgado (0-1, 3.24) to help right the ship after a heartbreaking loss Monday night. Anibal Sanchez (8-8, 3.62) gets the ball for the Marlins, and that's good news for the Braves. They've battered him (6.39 ERA) the last five times they've seen him. Braves at Marlins, 7:10 p.m. ET. Meanwhile, the Cardinals return home to open a six-game homestand. They'll continue to play without All-Star left fielder Matt Holliday, but it may not matter if the pitching continues to throw the way it has of late. Edwin Jackson (12-9, 3.71) takes his turn Tuesday night, and he's been great (2.20 ERA in last five starts) lately. Mike Pelfrey (7-12, 4.48) and the Mets will attempt to play spoiler. Mets at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m. ET.

AL Wild Card: The Rays' pursuit of the Red Sox is a hot topic at present, as everyone paying attention knows, but the Rays face a tall order this week. After taking three of four in Boston, the Rays still trail the Red Sox by two games in the AL wild card and now have a four-game series in New York against the mighty Yankees, who sport the best record in the AL. Wade Davis (10-9, 4.41) will start the series opener for the Rays, and the Yankees counter with rookie of the year candidate Ivan Nova (15-4, 3.81). Rays at Yankees, 7:05 p.m. ET. A couple hundred miles northeast, the Red Sox are hoping to build on Monday night's 18-9 win. Trade deadline acquisition Erik Bedard (5-9, 3.50) will make his first start since Sept. 3. He'll also be taking on his former team, the Orioles, who send Rick VandenHurk (0-0, 6.00) to the mound. Orioles at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m. ET.

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Posted on: September 19, 2011 11:56 pm
Edited on: September 20, 2011 12:26 am

Picking the National League's best defenders

By C. Trent Rosecrans

The Gold Gloves are one of baseball's toughest awards to decide -- and sometimes toughest to understand. Unlike many of the game's other awards, the Gold Gloves are voted on by managers and coaches, and every year it seems there's a winner or two that seems to win the award more with their bat than their glove.

Not only do some players seem to win it with something other than their glove, sometimes the award can be a lot like the Supreme Court, once you get elected, you're not going to lose your seat.

That said, it's a difficult award to vote for. There are better fielding statistics coming out every year, yet most are still in their infancy and can tell you only so much. Good defense, sometimes can be a lot like the definition Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart gave for pornograpy in Jacobelis v. Ohio in 1964: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embrued within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it." 

With that in mind, perhaps the voters for the Gold Gloves should be the scouts, but instead I'll try my hand at picking out the best defensive players in the National League.

Catcher: Yadier Molina, Cardinals

As tough as it is to use numbers to evaluate fielders, it's even tougher with catchers. At least the numbers with other fielders have some meaning, with catchers there's so much more to what they do defensively that it's hard not to go on reputation -- and nobody has a better reputation than Molina.

Others considered: Carlos Ruiz, Phillies; Brian McCann, Braves.

First base: Joey Votto, Reds

When Votto was coming up, people knew he could hit -- that was hard to ignore -- but his reputation at first base was nowhere near as good. Even as a rookie, he often struggled, especially on throws to a pitcher covering first. Since then, he's improved every year and this year he has proven himself to be the best defensive first baseman in the league. Votto, last year's MVP, covers more ground at first than any other first baseman in the league, which means it can be tough to get a hit if you hit it on the ground to the right side of the Reds infield, beacuse of the next guy on the list.

Others considered: Albert Pujols, Cardinals. Todd Helton, Rockies.

Brandon PhillipsSecond base: Brandon Phillips, Reds

A two-time Gold Glover, Phillips should be in line for his third. There may be no other player in baseball with as long of a highlight-reel as Phillips, who seemingly makes another amazing play every night.

Others considered: Chase Utley, Phillies, Omar Infante, Marlins, Neil Walker, Pirates

Third base: Pablo Sandoval, Giants

There are players with better defensive reputations than the Kung Fu Panda, but nobody's had a better year. The advanced stats don't tell you everything yet, but they're still pretty good. Sandoval leads qualified National League third basemen in UZR (12.3), UZR/150 (21.2) and plus-minus (20). 

Others considered: Placido Polanco, Phillies; Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals.

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

The Rockies may know a little something about drafting defensive shortstops -- they picked two of the best in the league, Tulowitzki and the Astros' Clint Barmes. Finally healthy, Barmes was outstanding defensively for the Astros, while Tulowitzki seems like the second coming of Cal Ripken. 

Others considered: Alex Gonzalez, Braves; Jose Reyes, Mets; Clint Barmes, Astros.

Left field: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies

The voting has changed this year to award Gold Gloves to each of the three outfield positions instead of three generic outfielder awards that usually went to center fielders. Carlos Gonzalez is tough to categorize, but considering he's played more games in left than any other spot, he's the easy choice here. He's started 60 games in left, 34 in right and 28 in center. He's played all three well, which isn't easy at spacious Coors Field, committing only one error on the season.

Others considered: Matt Holliday, Cardinals. Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks. Tony Gwynn, Dodgers.

Shane VictorinoCenter field: Shane Victorino, Phillies

This is one stacked category, with several deserving players. Under the old rules it would be easy, you'd have three center fielders and give them the three Gold Gloves. Under the new rules, it's a tougher choice. Victorino has had an MVP-type year, and no small part of that has been patrolling center field for the Phillies. The Flyin' Hawaiian is as good as anyone out there and his error-less season gives him the edge.

Others considered: Chris Young, Diamondbacks; Carlos Gomez, Brewers; Cameron Maybin, Padres; Rick Ankiel, Nationals; Andrew McCutchen, Pirates.

Right field: Mike Stanton, Marlins

He may be known best for the moon shots off his bat, but Stanton is a surprisingly good defensive outfielder. Stanton has the combination of athleticism and arm strength to be the best defensive right fielder in the game.

Others considered: Jay Bruce, Reds; Carlos Beltran, Giants; Jason Heyward, Braves.

Pitcher: R.A. Dickey, Mets

A knuckleball pitcher needs to field his position well -- there are plenty of bad hits coming back to the mound off poor contact. Dickey has been very good fielding his position and helped his team with his glove.

Others considered: Jake Westbrook, Cardinals; Bronson Arroyo, Reds; Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers; Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; Derek Lowe, Braves.

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Posted on: September 18, 2011 11:02 pm
Edited on: September 18, 2011 11:06 pm

Playoff Race: Cards, Giants creeping up on Braves

By Matt Snyder

The Braves coughed up a late lead Sunday and things continued to get interesting in the NL Wild Card race. With both the Giants and Cardinals winning, it's possible to view this as a three-team race. Hey, we'll take anything we can get this season, where many of the races have seemed foregone conclusions for the better part of September.

Unfortunately, none of these three teams play head-to-head the rest of the way. And keep in mind the Braves would have to lose 3 1/2 games of ground in just nine games. For some perspective, remember the Rockies winning 14 of 15 to close out 2007? They made up 4 1/2 games. So it's likely still going to be the Braves winning the Wild Card. Still, it's no sure thing and certainly bears watching.

Let's break it down.

Atlanta Braves
Remaining schedule: 3 @ FLA, 3 @ WAS, 3 vs. PHI
Coolstandings.com chances of winning Wild Card: 88.8 percent

St. Louis Cardinals
83-69, 3.5 GB
Remaining schedule: 1 @ PHI, 3 vs. NYM, 3 vs. CHC, 3 @ HOU
Coolstandings.com chances of winning Wild Card: 8.1 percent

San Francisco Giants
83-70, 4 GB
Remaining schedule: 3 @ LAD, 3 @ ARI, 3 vs. COL
Coolstandings.com chances of winning Wild Card: 2.6 percent

Make serious note that the Phillies will not be playing for anything in those final three games against the Braves. They'll be trying to get healthy and set a playoff rotation first; playing to win the games second. In light of that, the Braves do have an easy path, but the Cardinals' schedule is pretty easy. The Giants have a tough task in front of them, just as they do in the West.

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Posted on: September 18, 2011 10:39 pm
Edited on: September 18, 2011 11:08 pm

3 Up, 3 Down: Bring on the power

By Matt Snyder

Giants' offense. Brandon Belt hit a home run in the fourth inning, which marked the third straight game in which he'd hit a bomb. So I was all ready to have him here alone. But then starting pitcher Matt Cain went deep for just the fifth time in his career. Then Pablo Sandoval hit his second home run of the inning and all of a sudden it was an eight-run inning. The Giants had a 10-1 lead and would go on to win 12-5. Mike Fontenot and Brandon Crawford also homered while the Giants pounded out 13 hits. So the Giants scored 35 runs in a four-game series. This is a team that entered the series dead last in the NL in runs scored. They've won eight in a row and are only four out in the NL Wild Card race.

Erick Aybar, Angels. I always hesitate to use the term "career day" because it quite literally means it's going to be the best day of a player's career. In light of that, it's a term that is overused, frankly. I think we can at least think about doing it here, though. In a much-needed victory for the Angels, Aybar was 4-for-4 with two home runs, four RBI and five runs scored. The five runs tied an Angels record for a single game while it was the first time in Aybar's career that he hit more than one home run in a game. Oh, and Aybar's two non-homers were doubles. He also drew a walk. So he came to the plate five times, scored five times, made zero outs and accrued 12 total bases. Yes, that's a day he won't soon repeat. I'll say it was a career day.

Dodgers' offense. Yeah, the West Coast teams decided to pack some punch Sunday. This particular game was ugly. It was 11-0 Dodgers through three innings. It ended 15-1, as the Dodgers piled up 23 hits. James Loney, who seems to have flipped some sort of switch here in the past four weeks, was 5-for-6 with a double, three RBI and two runs. Juan Rivera was 3-for-4 with a double, three runs and four RBI. Jerry Sands was 4-for-6 with a home run and four RBI. Matt Kemp was 3-for-4 with a double, home run, three runs and two RBI. Dee Gordon was 3-for-4 with a triple and three runs. Perhaps the most amazing stat? They left 14 men on base.

Also note: There just wasn't enough room here for the power-hitting display Sunday. White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, Blue Jays DH Adam Lind and Cardinals outfielder Allen Craig all hit two home runs, respectively.

Jonny Venters, Braves. Rough outing for one third of O'Ventbrel (that's a combination of O'Flaherty, Venters and Kimbrel, for those unaware of the Atlanta moniker). Venters walked three -- including one with the bases loaded -- while allowing two hits and two earned runs in the eighth. He made a one-run lead into a one-run deficit and the Braves ended up losing the game 7-5. Venters now has a 6.30 ERA, 2.10 WHIP and two blown saves in his past 11 outings. 

The Pirates. Pirates pitchers faced 53 hitters. Thirty reached base. You can't win a game in the majors where more than half the batters reach base. That's just embarrassing. Oh, and Dodgers starter Chad Billingley hadn't won a game in six weeks, but he shut the Pirates down. Remember when they were above .500? The Pirates are 68-85 now.

Matt Maloney, Reds. He wasn't supposed to start, as Dontrelle Willis was a late scratch. Maloney was then forced into action, but the Brewers made sure Maloney wouldn't hang around for long. They torched the lefty for nine hits and seven runs (six earned) in just 1 2/3 innings of action. This included two home runs. The Reds lost 8-1 and were swept by the Brewers.

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Posted on: September 18, 2011 6:58 pm
Edited on: September 18, 2011 11:08 pm

Playoff Race: Big D-Backs win Sunday

By Matt Snyder

The Giants crushed the Rockies Sunday for their eighth consecutive victory, but the Diamondbacks held serve. The D-Backs 5-1 win broke a three-game losing streak and kept the NL West lead at five games with nine to play. That feels pretty insurmountable, but the Giants and D-Backs do have a three-game series coming up this week. The Giants have to sweep it or they will not win the division. Period. And even then it's a tall order (think: A two-game deficit with six to play).

Let's break it down.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Remaining schedule: 3 vs. PIT, 3 vs. SF, 3 vs. LAD
Coolstandings.com chances of winning NL West: 97.1 percent

San Francisco Giants
83-70, 5 GB
Remaining schedule: 3 @ LAD, 3 @ ARI, 3 vs. COL
Coolstandings.com chances of winning NL West: 2.9 percent

Again, it's pretty far-fetched, but if the Giants get a three-game sweep over Arizona, there's a chance. The bottom line is that the Diamondbacks' victory Sunday was huge. They now get to close the season with a nine-game homestand, in which they'll likely get to celebrate the NL West title at some point.

As for the Giants' chances in the Wild Card, click here to check it out.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: September 18, 2011 10:58 am

On Deck: Verlander goes for 24


By Matt Snyder

As always, follow all action live on CBSSports.com's scoreboard. Also, the Playoff Race page has all the information you need about the remaining races.

The Tigers already have locked up their first division title since 1987, but that doesn't mean they're packing it in the rest of the way. They're only one game ahead of the Rangers for the second-best record in the AL, and as of Sunday, that means playing the Red Sox instead of the Yankees in the first round. And having home-field advantage. But none of this is the main story Sunday. It's the Tigers' starting pitcher. Justin Verlander (23-5, 2.36) is gunning to become the first 24-game winner in baseball since Randy Johnson in 2002. The last pitcher to win at least 24 in the AL? Bob Welch in 1990, when he won a whopping 27 for the A's. Coincidentally, the A's are Verlander's opponent Sunday. Guillermo Moscoso (8-8, 3.44) is on the hill. Tigers at A's, 4:05 p.m. ET.

Rays shoot for three of four: The biggest head-to-head series of this weekend is easily the Rays-Red Sox tilt in Fenway Park. If the Rays win Sunday, they'll have taken three of four from the home team and trimmed the Wild Card deficit to two games with 10 to play. The pitching matchup certainly favors the Rays. David Price (12-12, 3.34) has a 1.60 ERA and 1.01 WHIP with more than a strikeout per inning in his last seven starts. The Red Sox send Tim Wakefield (7-6, 5.13) to the mound. He hasn't fared well as a starter (5.33 ERA) at all this season, so it's going to come down to how well the Red Sox hit Price. He's 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in four starts against Boston this year. Rays at Red Sox, 1:35 p.m. ET.
Giant comeback?
A five-game deficit with only 10 games to play is an awfully tall order, but the Giants are making the NL West as interesting as they can. They've won seven in a row while the Diamondbacks have dropped three straight. That magic number of six for the D-Backs has been stalled for several days, and things have a chance to get interesting before a three-game series between the two clubs next weekend in Arizona. Matt Cain (11-10, 2.79) will try to keep the good times rolling for the Giants against Esmil Rogers (6-5, 5.88) and the Rockies. Giants at Rockies, 3:10 p.m. ET. Meanwhile, Joe Saunders (11-12, 3.83) leads the D-Backs against Aaron Harang (13-6, 3.85) and the Padres. Diamondbacks at Padres, 4:05 p.m. ET.

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Posted on: September 16, 2011 3:51 pm

On Deck: Beckett, Shields square off in battle

By Evan Brunell

Follow all games live with CBSSports.com's GameTracker.

TBBOSBest matchup: On Friday, the best matchup is not only the best pitching matchup, but the best game to watch, period. The Red Sox continued to slump Thursday, dropping the opener of a four-game series to the Rays. Now Tampa's just three games behind the BoSox for the wild card. Josh Beckett will make his first start in almost two weeks as he puts his 2.49 ERA up against James Shields, who completes games like taking candy from a baby. Shields doesn't have a good history against the Sox, but over his last four starts has thrown 34 1/3 innings of 0.79-ERA ball. Nasty. Rays vs. Red Sox, 7:10 p.m. ET

SabathiaRoad to 20: CC Sabathia chases after his 20th win as the Yankees begin their final series against Toronto. While Justin Verlander has been superhuman, Sabathia's season has largey been ignored. It shouldn't be. In 224 1/3 innings, Sabathia has notched a 2.93 ERA, striking out 216 and walking just 55. If not for Verlander's magical season, Sabathia would be the favorite to win the Cy Young Award. As is, he'll try to become the first Yankee pitcher to win 20 games in back-to-back seasons since Tommy John in 1980. A win (or Red Sox loss) will reduce the Yankees' magic number to single-digits. He'll oppose Dustin McGowan, replacing Brett Cecil after Cecil sliced his hand cleaning a blender. Yankees vs. Blue Jays, 7:07 p.m. ET

BumgarnerSeason ending? In what could be Madisom Bumgarner's final start, the left-hander will seek to even his win-loss record at 12 apiece when he opposes the Rockies. In his first full season, Bumgarner has posted a 3.33 ERA in 186 2/3 innings as a 21-year-old, turning 22 in August. It was simply a fantastic year for Bumgarner. "I'm just making better pitches and having a little better luck at the same time," Bumgarner told the Associated Press, speaking about his 2.63 ERA in the second half. "I don't know if I've gotten stronger. I still feel good. I'm not worried about wins and losses for me. The biggest thing is innings. You want to stay out there and pitch late. That's probably the most important thing." Alex White goes for Colorado. Giants vs. Rockies, 8:10 p.m. ET

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Posted on: September 16, 2011 10:12 am

Pepper: Beltran wants Giants to upgrade offense


By Evan Brunell

Wanted: more offense -- Carlos Beltran has enjoyed his time in San Francisco, but it could only last a few months.

The free-agent outfielder told the San Jose Mercury News that playing for the Giants would be fantastic with its pitching staff, plus the returns of Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez should boost the offense next season. But that's not enough.

"I believe there should be a little bit more than that," he said, referring to the offense.

But where should the team upgrade? Catcher, second base and third are spoken for. Aubrey Huff will be in his final season while Brandon Belt is ready to play full-time, so split first base and left field between the two players. If Beltran comes back, that's right field sewed up. That leaves shortstop, with no real internal candidate, and center field.

Of course, Jose Reyes has gotten a lo of attention as the marquee free agent, but the Giants will have to pay a pretty penny for Reyes' services. In center, the team might as well keep Andres Torres if its next-best option is Coco Crisp, although Grady Sizemore could be attractive if the Indians decline their club option.

But the Giants have to worry about money, too. They have $80 million committed to just six players next year, one of which won't be playing for the team in Aaron Rowand. To resign Beltran and bring in another top-flight hitter to please Beltran? That's pushing it.

"You want to be in a lineup where you are around players that will make the lineup better, you understand?" Beltran said. "Right now we have missed a leadoff batter here, and that's huge. That's something, to me, they should address that area, before me."

Weak Central
: Jim Leyland has a lot of expletive-filled thoughts as to the AL Central being so weak, the Tigers' accomplishments may be hurt. “You're looking for something to take something away from them,” Leyland complained to MLive.com . “I don't want to talk about that. That's [expletive]. That's total [expletive]. Let me remind you of something. It was three months ago, two months ago, that the [expletive] Cleveland Indians were the talk of baseball. Everybody was saying they were pretty [expletive] good. Now, all of a sudden, because we beat them they're [expletive]? That's not fair. That's unfair.”

Moving to right: Carlos Gonzalez will be the team's right fielder next season, Rockies manager Jim Tracy says, citing Gonzalez's arm as the reason why. He's already made the move and has 12 assists in just 34 games. (MLB.com)

Staying in Japan? Phenom Yu Darvish is re-thinking whether or not he will come to America for 2012,. His team, Nippon Ham, is eager to post Darvish and reap the profits but Japan's best pitcher is unsure the time is right to make the leap. (NPB Tracker)

Humidor time: The Rockies love everything about their Triple-A franchise...except the fact that it's a launching pad for hitters, robbing pitchers of development time. As a result, a humidor will be installed next season. (Denver Post)

The story of Trayvon: Seattle's newest outfielder, Trayvon Robinson, had a tough upbringing with a home in south-central Los Angeles, split between warring gang factions and attending the high school featured in Boys N The Hood. It's a feature well worth reading. (Seattle Times)

Setback: Dodgers ex-closer Jonathan Broxton has suffered a setback in his recovery from an injured elbow. Broxton will become a free-agent and will have to look around for a one-year deal to rehabilitate his value. (MLB.com)

One year later: A year ago, a baseball bat pierced Tyler Colvin's chest. What could have been a serious incident has now passed and Colvin is back in the majors -- albeit struggling. (MLB.com)

Jays resurgence: Part of Toronto's resurgence has been the successful adding of young players both inside and outside of the organization. More help is on  the way as indicated by the Jays making the minor-league postseason with five of seven teams. But will Toronto make its move in the offseason or wait for more help to arrive? (Canoe.ca)

No diamond: The city of Detroit has nixed an offer from Chevrolet to preserve the diamond at Tiger Stadium, which is mostly demolished these days. Why did the city do that? Because it's trying to keep the space open for significant redevelopment, which the city would jump at to improve its flagging revenues. (Detroit Free Press)

Still playing: Aaron Cook won't retire, but the Rockie who receives his final start in Colorado on Wednesday also certainly won't be back. (Denver Post)

Morgan or Sandberg? Reds announcer Marty Brennaman believes that Morgan was the better second baseman than Sandberg, which the author terms a "controversial" topic. Really? (Chicago Tribune)

Still playing: Amir Garrett, who was picked in the 22nd round of the MLB draft, hopes to play basketball as a freshman this winter after being declared ineligible by the NCAA. Garrett signed a $1 million deal with the Reds and is expect to join the team after college basketball is over. (Eye on College Basketball)

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com