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Tag:Derek Jeter
Posted on: April 5, 2011 1:34 pm
 

Struggling with new stance, Jeter changes course

By Evan Brunell

JeterWell, that didn't last long.

After only a few games under his belt, Derek Jeter has decided to largely scrap the changes to his swing made over the offseason with the help of hitting coach Kevin Long. While Jeter isn't quite moving away from the stance, he is done worrying about the placement and location of his foot on every swing. He's simply going to go up there and do his thing, hopefully reversing a 2-for-14 start to the year.

"I just said the heck with it," Jeter told ESPN New York about constantly having the tweaks in his head. "I wasn't going to think about it. ... Before you're trying to think about where your foot is and you're trying not to move it, and it's just too much to think about. So [Monday] I tried not to."

Jeter went hitless again Monday, but reported he felt a lot better about his swing.

"I had some good swings. ... All I want to do is have good at-bats and hit some balls hard. [Monday] I was happy because one ball I hit hard down the right-field line and went foul, and then the one in my last at-bat to left field. So I'm making progress. That's the key."

Meanwhile, Jeter has looked like a decrepit shortstop in the field, which could be a real concern. However, that concern will come with time. Right now, all the focus is on Jeter's production at the plate. Can he return to his .300-hitting ways or is .270 his new level? Who knows, but his stance will be the talk of town.

"If he's not comfortable with [his new approach]," manager Joe Girardi said, "I can tell you one thing: Jeet's never going to let anybody know. That's just his personality. But he hit two balls hard tonight, and I thought he swung the bat well. So if he's not comfortable with it, I think he's getting more comfortable with it."

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Category: MLB
Posted on: March 30, 2011 12:21 am
Edited on: March 30, 2011 1:58 pm
 

Jeter's 3,000th hit among milestones for 2011

Derek Jeter

By C. Trent Rosecrans

It's hard to believe that in the long, storied history of the New York Yankees, no player has reached 3,000 hits while wearing the pinstripes. Well, until this year.

With 2,926 hits, Derek Jeter is 74 hits from becoming the 28th player in baseball with 3,000 hits, passing such greats as Rogers Hornsby (2,930), Barry Bonds (2,935) and Frank Robinson (2,943) along the way.

Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson and Wade Boggs all wore the uniform on their way to 3,000, but no Yankee has ever reached the mark. Jeter already holds the record for most hits in a Yankee career, passing Lou Gehrig (2,721) in 2009.

Jeter also has a chance not only to become the first Yankee with 3,000 hits, but also to do it at home. Last year Jeter rapped his 74th hit on June 6. The year before, it was June 12, and in 2008 it came on June 19. This season the Yankees have a homestead against the Red Sox, Indians and Rangers from June 7-16.

While Jeter's run to 3,000 hits will get the most attention of any milestone in 2011, it's not the only one.

Jim Thome Jim Thome enters the season with 589 home runs and is just 11 from becoming the eighth player in history to reach 600. From there, he can move up the all-time list as Sammy Sosa is seventh with 609.

At 613 home runs, Alex Rodriguez needs 18 homers to pass his one-time teammate Ken Griffey Jr. (630) and 48 to pass Willie Mays (660).

Manny Ramirez has 555 home runs, but after a nine-homer 2010 and 19 in 2009, 45 homers this season doesn't seem likely. His career-high is 45, hitting that many in 1998 and 2005.

The 400 home run list isn't quite the feat it once was, but three players -- Paul Konerko (365), Adam Dunn (354) and David Ortiz (349) -- are knocking on the door.

Speaking of 400, Johnny Damon is 15 stolen bases from reach 400 for his career. He had 11 last season. Ichiro Suzuki is 17 stolen bases shy of 400 -- he had 42 last season.

Jimmy Rollins needs two triples for 100 in his career. 

While it won't get much attention, Hideki Matsui has 493 career homers combined between Japan and the United States, putting 500 within reach.

Rounding the Bases

How unlikely is it we see another 300-game winner anytime soon? The career leader in wins among active pitchers (besides the inured Jamie Moyer and his 267 victories) is Tim Wakefield, who has 193. Not only does he need seven wins to get to 200, he only needs to yield 11 hits to have surrendered 3,000 in his career (interestingly, 124 pitchers in baseball history have allowed 3,000 hits).

Javier Vazquez has 2,374 career strikeouts, leaving him 126 strikeouts short of becoming the 30th pitcher to strike out 2,500. Vazquez had 121 last season with the Yankees, so if he's healthy for the Marlins this season he should be close.

And, of course, there's the other great Yankee, Mariano Rivera, who is 41 saves from becoming just the second pitcher in history to record 600 saves.  He's 43 saves away from taking over the all-time lead from Trevor Hoffman, who retired after last season with 601. 

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb  on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: March 29, 2011 5:02 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 11:51 am
 

Top 20 things to expect from 2011 season

Jeter

By Evan Brunell

The 2011 season is slated to start Thursday, and with it comes no shortage of storylines to watch. Last year brought the advent of Stephen Strasburg, yet another Cliff Lee trade, and of course, the Giants being crowned champions. What's on deck?

1. East Coast hype

An all-too easy criticism of mainstream media or any sports journalist is the dreaded "East Coast bias" label. However, this season, most of the intriguing teams and races will come from both the AL and NL East.

In the senior circuit, the Phillies have a vaunted rotation, but injuries to Domonic Brown and Chase Utley have left the door ajar for the Braves to sneak in. Many seem to be overlooking Atlanta, but the club won 91 games and will add Dan Uggla to the lineup while improving production out of left field. The Marlins, meanwhile, have a strong rotation and enough offensive potential loaded in their young players that they can't be discounted. Add in the mess that is the Mets along with some nice storylines in Washington (Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Jayson Werth to name three), and there's plenty of topics to go around.

Likewise, in the league with the DH, the Red Sox were the darlings of the offseason after importing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, while adding Bobby Jenks to the bullpen, and appear to be the team to beat, as Yankees GM Brian Cashman has admitted. But you can't count out New York, and Cashman has a quality club ready to push for the division. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, underwent quite a remake but can't be counted out, as this is a club that could crack 90 wins with only a smidgen of luck. The Jays are fresh off a surprising year and have Jose Bautista to draw national interest, while the Orioles are hopeful the middling veterans imported will push the team toward the .500 barrier.

That's not to say that other teams don't have compelling storylines, but the concentration of quality and ease of finding compelling storylines for each team means that the East Coast will dominate the news.

2. Breaking records

It will be a banner year for three players set to hit significant milestones, and there are plenty of other players nearing milestones that, while not Hall of Fame caliber, will put emphasis on the productive careers they have had.

Rounding the Bases

Perhaps the most revered milestone for a hitter to reach, 3,000 hits will come into play for Derek Jeter, who is just 74 hits away. He will probably reach the mark in late May or early June, depending on if he's the .270 batting average Jeter of 2010 or the .314-average Jeter of his career.

Jeter isn't the only Yankee poised for a milestone, however. Mariano Rivera is closing in on 600 saves, as he currently has 559. Given that the major-league record for saves is 601 by Trevor Hoffman, Rivera could also make it to the top of the mountain. That said, Mo will need a good year to reach 600 saves as he has not cracked the 40-save barrier in four out of the past five years.

Ivan Rodriguez is also close to 3,000 hits, needing 183. However, given he has not reached that mark since 1999, you can bet I-Rod will need until at least 2012 to reach the milestone. Heck, depending on how much he plays and produces, he may need until 2013, even though that is quite unlikely.

Jim Thome is 11 home runs away from becoming the eighth member of the 600-club. Paul Konerko needs 35 homers to reach 400, while Adam Dunn (354) and David Ortiz (349) would need big seasons to hit the 400 mark.

Closing in on 2,000 hits are Carlos Lee (1,967), Orlando Cabrera (1,948), Scott Rolen (1,944), Jason Giambi (1,914), Albert Pujols (1,900), Adrian Beltre (1,889), Luis Castillo (1,889), Konerko (1,861), Michael Young (1,848), Derrek Lee (1,843), Juan Pierre (1,842), Andruw Jones (1,840) and Placido Polanco (1,836).

3. A new labor agreement

Baseball's collective bargaining agreement is due to expire after the season, but both baseball and the players union are already beginning work on coming to an accord. In a year where the NFL has locked out its players and the NBA appears headed down that path, it's important for baseball to work together with players and come to an agreement in short order.

Fortunately, after years of rancor, both sides have a harmonious working relationship and it should not be difficult to come to an arrangement even with sensitive topics such as revenue sharing and draft slotting among what will be discussed. The last agreement was finalized and announced on Oct. 25, 2006, so any announcement may not come until the conclusion of the playoffs.

However, recent word comes from the Boston Globe that any hint of a work stoppage would be a shocker, even with delicate issues such as revamping the revenue-sharing agreement. Also on deck is adding wild cards, an international draft and draft slotting.

4. Giants doing just fine

There are a lot of people wondering if the Giants can possibly repeat their World Series run of last year, doing so with a suboptimal offense and squeaking into the playoffs by the skin of their nose.

However, the offense should be much improved with Buster Posey behind the dish for a full year, Aaron Rowand squarely on the bench and Miguel Tejada replacing Edgar Renteria. While Tejada may have his issues, especially on defense, he should be able to improve on what Renteria gave the Giants last season. In addition, prospect Brandon Belt should be in the majors by June at the latest and will add another dimension to the club.

The rotation is one of concern, even if it's ridiculously deep given how young everyone is sans Barry Zito and the load they shouldered last year to win a ring. Fortunately, the Giants are cognizant of this and plan to give starters a lighter load to start the year. Plus, even if one or two starting pitchers fall flat on their face, there's still plenty of quality starters. One concern is the depth behind the front five, which is extremely thin.

5. Yankees trade for starting pitcher

There's simply no way the Yankees don't strike for a starting pitcher this season, but it may not be Francisco Liriano. The lefty is the hot name in trade circles and while Liriano still stands a good chance of being dealt, it probably won't be until after the year.

But the Yankees need help now. They had enough trouble filling the Nos. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation, so imagine what the depth behind them is like once injuries strike -- and they will. Fortunately for the Yankees, they have a solid farm system and a top prospect in Jesus Montero they can dangle for the right pitcher.

Even if the right pitcher doesn't come along to whisk Montero away, there will be no shortage of candidates as the year goes on for the Yankees to grab. What bears watching is who they grab. While acquiring a No. 4 starter would certainly deepen the rotation, it's more important for New York to get a frontline pitcher. Does anyone feel confident with A.J. Burnett following CC Sabathia in the playoffs? Didn't think so, and it would be presumptuous to project Phil Hughes' emergence into that pitcher even if the talent is there.

6. Strasburg recovering from Tommy John surgery

StrasburgStrasburg underwent Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow on September 9, and recovery from such surgeries these days tends to take 9-12 months. Edinson Volquez returned to the majors 11 months after such a surgery. While the Nationals may play it cautious, Strasburg is right on schedule, and given his tremendous work ethic and young age, should have no problem meeting the conservative 12-month estimate.

That means Strasmas could be back just in time to close the season out, where he'll certainly dominate headlines once more. Strasburg would certainly need minor-league rehab starts first, but his timeline should assure him of the ability to get into games before the minor-league regular season ends in early September. Given the club will have expanded to 40 players at that point and will likely be out of the division race, it won't be difficult to get Strasburg back on the roster and in a major-league game.

Could the Nationals play it conservative and hold him back until 2012? Sure, it all depends how Strasburg progresses. But even if they hold him back, Strasburg certainly would play Winterball to get his footing under him. Most pitchers returning from T.J. surgery tend to struggle with command upon return, and the only way to address that is to get on a mound and pitch.

7. Bonds, Rocket dominate headlines

BondsThe trial of Barry Bonds has already started, but is still ongoing. It should be wrapped up before long, but that doesn't mean that Bonds will exit the headlines -- whatever the ruling on Bonds' perjury trial, it will have long-lasting ramifications on the game.

If Bonds is found guilty, many ink will be spilled on how this cements Bonds' exclusion from the Hall of Fame, plus articles on how Bonds is finally getting his comeuppance.

In addition, Roger Clemens will be put on high alert, given the Rocket will be undergoing his own perjury trial in the summer. If Bonds is found innocent, there will be a hot debate once more on whether to vote Bonds into the Hall. You will find those writers who believe that, despite the acquittal of Bonds, he knowingly abused steroids. There will be those who concede that while Bonds likely knew exactly what was going on, the law has deemed him innocent, and thus should be elected. And of course, a broad spectrum of opinions therein.

The Clemens trial, meanwhile, will dominate headlines even more than Bonds given the salacious details that have leaked out about Clemens' career, plus the off-putting way in how Clemens has fought the rumors he used steroids.

Much like the Bonds trial, the verdict will spark debate amid wide-ranging opinions. If both are convicted, there will be those who consider the steroid mess closed thanks to triumphing over perhaps the best hitter and pitcher of the steroid era. If both are innocent, it may open the door for those to wonder openly if they are not truly innocent, that the problem may lie with the system itself if it allows Bonds and Clemens to walk free.

Either way, the Bonds and Clemens trial will spark plenty of discussion that will last for years as they attempt to get into the Hall of Fame.

8. Questioning if Mets stay solvent

WilponsThe Mets are hoping to close a deal to bring in a new investor by the close of July. While it is not yet known what percentage of the team these investors will hold, it is expected to be in the 20-25 percent range, although the Wilpons are focused on acquiring a certain price over selling a certain percentage.

Why? 

They need the money. The Mets have debt to pay off, a $1 billion lawsuit staring them in the face (thanks, Irving Picard) and a ticking clock in which to stay solvent. If the Mets aren't able to bring in a new investor by that time, they will likely need a loan from MLB. At that point commissioner Bud Selig would likely have free rein to do what he wants with the Mets, including telling the Wilpons to sell the entire club.

That's incredibly unlikely, especially since the Wilpons (Jeff pictured on the left, Fred right) and Selig have a long, good relationship, but it bears mentioning.

Most investors are requesting majority control of the Mets -- which won't happen, unless the Wilpons' hands are forced -- or right of first refusal if the Wilpons eventually have to cough up the team. This should be an acceptable compromise to the Wilpons, who need to worry about money more than they do any possible future owner of the club.

9. New wave of prospects arriving

At the beginning of March, CBS Sports revealed its top 100 prospects, and along with the list came information on which prospects could make an impact this season.

Topping the list was No. 3 prospect Domonic Brown, who was expected to start in right field for the Phillies and attempt to replace Werth. Unfortunately, the team is now left scrambling after Brown fractured the hamate bone in his hand. He shouldn't be out terribly long, but may struggle with his power stroke upon returning. Philly may have to wait until 2012 to extract real value from the kid.

Meanwhile. No. 6's Jeremy Hellickson will open the season as a member of Tampa Bay's rotation and could easily replace the statistics Matt Garza tossed up. He's that good, that ready for the major leagues and has to be considered the front-runner for the AL Rookie of the Year award.

A fellow pitcher in Kyle Drabek (No. 16) appears on the verge of cracking Toronto's rotation after a successful late-season stint with the Blue Jays. Across the border in Ohio, Aroldis Chapman (No. 9) is readying for a full year in the bullpen and could wrest the closer's job away from Francisco Cordero by year's end.

The prospects keep on coming, as the Braves boast three in No. 19's Freddie Freeman, No. 29 Mike Minor and No. 85 Craig Kimbrel. Freeman should provide a steady presence at first base even if he lacks high-end ceiling. Minor figures to open the year in Triple-A, but should make an appearance before long and have a nice career in the middle of the rotation. Kimbrel is considered by many to be the Braves closer of the future.

There are plenty of other projected starters who will infuse baseball with youth, such as No. 33's Chris Sale, who will relieve for the White Sox; No. 66's Matt Dominguez who is on pace to play third for Florida -- ditto the same for No. 96's Brent Morel for the White Sox; No. 71's J.P. Arencibia is readying for a season as Toronto's backstop; No. 86's Danny Espinosa rocketing through two years of the minors to open the year as the starting second baseman for Washington; and No. 95 Jake McGee's apparent future as Tampa Bay's closer. You also can't discount No. 18 Brandon Belt, who could easily take home the NL Rookie of the Year honors provided he logs enough time for the Giants. Starting pitchers Zach Britton (No. 14, Orioles), Simon Castro (No. 52, Padres) and Kyle Gibson (No. 37, Twins) are on the verge of the bigs as well.

10. Philly thankful Blanton stayed

When the Phillies signed Cliff Lee, the consensus was that Philadelphia would trade Joe Blanton. After all, who needs a No. 5 starter due $17 miliion over the next two years when you have Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels?

Philly couldn't find a fit, however, and will now head into the season with Blanton on the roster. This is a good thing. Just because Blanton is the No. 5 starter doesn't mean he doesn't hold value, and being able to trot Blanton out against the back of the rotation for other teams will give Philadelphia an edge -- one it needs after losing Brown and Chase Utley.

Will Blanton stay with the team for the remainder of the year? Who can say, but even trading Blanton in July for pieces Philly knows it needs for a World Series run -- and to teams who will be increasingly desperate for pitchers once injuries and attrition hit -- is far more valuable than any deal of Blanton in January would have accomplished.

11. Firings

There's no question some managers and GMs will be shown the door in 2011. But who?

Skippers on the hot seat are covered here, so let's take a look at some GMs that could get the axe.

CollettiNed Colletti, Dodgers: Granted, Colletti has been hamstrung by the financial woes of owner Frank McCourt, but Colletti hasn't exactly done a good job with what he's been given. He appears to have learned from his mistakes in signing disasters like Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones and giving away Carlos Santana, but he also hasn't improved the team significantly. This team is simply muddling along, and Colletti looks like the classic "change for change's sake" for McCourt to try to improve morale. Of course, nothing will improve morale more than McCourt taking a hike.

Jim Hendry, Cubs: Hendry has been an up-and-down GM with the Cubs. While he made a bold gamble in trading for Garza and the Cubs may be a mild sleeper, if the team missteps yet again it's difficult to fathom the Ricketts family holding still. Hendry is a holdover from the previous ownership regime and is signed through 2012, but that wouldn't give the ownership pause in firing him. If the Cubs slip, Hendry is highly likely to be given his walking papers, especially since he stuck his neck out by hiring Mike Quade.

Tony Reagins, Angels: Reagins has done nothing but take steps back since taking over for Bill Stoneman, all the more curious given Stoneman was promoted and oversees Reagins. But the moves Reagins has made, such as (obviously) Vernon Wells are head scratching. Similar moves for Scott Kazmir and insisting on playing Jeff Mathis have followed. Manager Mike Scioscia loves Mathis, but it's up to Reagins to tell Scioscia no and take Mathis away if need be. Unfortunately, this team looks lined up to disappoint again and hover around .500. Will that fly for a second consecutive year in L.A.? Doubt it, and Scioscia won't be the first candidate on the chopping block.

Ed Wade, Astros: It's possible Wade could be on the chopping block in his third season with Houston. The Astros are widely expected to slide back and simply aren't successful at the major- or minor-league level when it comes tom talent. That may speak more to the owner than GM, but the owner doesn't get fired. Also, McLane is thought to be interested in selling the team and is reportedly close to selling to Jim Crane, who previously attempted to buy Houston and lost out on the Rangers last season. Should that happen, new ownership would absolutely want to bring in its own leader.

Jack Zduriencik, Mariners: Jack Z's leash is likely long enough to give him at least one more year, but in Year 3, the Mariners simply don't seem to have improved from his tenure. Yes, they surprised many in 2009, and part of it was probably flukish, but Zduriencik took a historically anemic lineup from 2010 and added ... Jack Cust. If he can get a strong season from Justin Smoak and impressive debuts from Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda, he should be safe.

12. Surprise teams

It happens every year. There's always that one team that takes a big step forward and contends for the postseason. Last year was especially notable in this regard, with the Reds, Padres, Giants and Blue Jays all performing better than expected. The one team to keep an eye on for 2011 is Colorado.

The Rockies finished with 83 wins last year, which is a surprise given the talent. Everyone knows the name Ubaldo Jimenez, Troy Tulowitzki (pictured) and Carlos Gonzalez, but the rest of the team aren't scrubs either. Colorado has been in the national consciousness the last few years given its Rocktober run in 2007 and another postseason appearance in 2009, but it hasn't been able to sustain that excellence.

TulowitzkiThat could be changing now that Gonzalez has fully matured into a middle-of-the-order hitter and have built out a rotation that should keep Colorado in the game. The Rockies are counting a bit on production from Ian Stewart at third and Chris Iannetta at catcher, but when you look at this team, it's a playoff-caliber club that should challenge the Giants in the NL West.

Unlike Colorado, however, there will also be those teams that crash and burn despite expectations. San Diego is widely expected to slide back, but expectations have also been adjusted due to trading Adrian Gonzalez. The one team that may not be able to live up to its billing is the Brewers.

Like Colorado, the star players are obvious -- Zack Greinke and Prince Fielder are the star names, but Ryan Braun and Shaun Marcum are no lightweights, either. The one area of concern in Milwaukee is the utter lack of depth which will end up a real problem if and when injuries strike. Look at what's happened to the rotation -- without Greinke to start the season, the club is going to have to trot out what will effectively be slop in the No. 5 spot. There's similar stories on offense with little help ready to step in and a complete punting of shortstop defense and center field offense.

The Brewers should finish .500, but they are a popular pick to win the World Series and it's difficult to envision them even making the playoffs unless everything goes right. The odds of that happening are as slim as Greinke accepting a trade back to the Royals.

13. Suffering in K.C ... plus optimism

"The day is darkest before dawn," or so goes the saying. That's certainly true in Kansas City, which will throw out a team capable of losing 100 games. But boasting the game's best farm system in a very long time is just the salve to ease the pain Royals fans will enjoy  watching Luke Hochevar function as the team's "ace."

The Royals have pared payroll, knowing it's pointless to try to pretend they can contend, plus the necessity to keep certain positions open for prospects that are nearing the majors. While Alcides Escobar will start the season in the majors, that won't be enough to excite the masses until the first wave of prospects hit, with Mike Moustakas likely to join the club in June or July.

Fans are going to have to sit through Jeff Francoeur flailing at pitches, Alex Gordon trying desperately to reverse his "bust" label and Jason Kendall struggling to take corporeal form ... but the picture only gets rosier, starting with 2012 where it's possible three of the most heralded prospects could break the year with the club, then an additional three hitting the majors at some point over the summer.

While watching the Royals, at least in the outset, will be an exercise in futility, by September, they may become the hot team to watch for the baseball fanatic.

14. Pirates finish last -- or will they?

The Pirates are poised to register their 19th consecutive losing season, but there is some optimism in Pittsburgh. The first wave of position player prospects have hit, and the club can point to Andrew McCutchen in center field, Jose Tabata in left, Neil Walker at second and Pedro Alvarez at third as reasons to be optimistic with the offense. There are some other intriguing pieces down on the farm offensively that could make an impact such as catcher Tony Sanchez, and with a strong year, outfielder Starling Marte could be knocking on the door.

The club is also building solid pitching depth, with Rudy Owens and Bryan Morris perhaps making their big-league debuts this season, although the cream of the crop in Jameson Taillon (the No. 2 overall pick behind Harper in last season's draft) and Stetson Allie are further away. While the team waits for Taillon and Allie, however, it could pluck Gerrit Cole with the No. 1 pick in June. Cole has been called by some as the "next Stephen Strasburg." Lofty expectations to be sure, but if Cole is picked and advances quickly, the Pirates could start doing some damage in several years.

In 2011, finishing under .500 is a virtual certainty. But will the Bucs finish in last place? It's possible they could pull out a fourth-place finish. It all depends how well the rotation performs and Alvarez, Tabata and Walker all adjust to a full year in the majors. The Astros may just have enough solid major-league talent to grab a fourth-place finish, but that's in doubt. Hey, any type of progress will be welcome in Pittsburgh.

15. Wild (card) about the postseason?

There seems to be overwhelming momentum toward expanding the playoffs with another wild card likely being added to the fray to battle the other wild-card winner in a best-of-3 series. That means that for the first time since 1995, the postseason would take on an entirely different complexion.

In 2010, the Yankees would have taken on the Chicago White Sox, while the Braves would have had to stave off the San Diego Padres, who lost the division by one game to the Giants.

The year prior, the Red Sox would battle the Rangers, giving the national audience a hint of what was to come in Texas while the NL would have pitted Colorado against the division-rival Giants. Assuming two wild cards can't come out of the same division, the Marlins would have drawn the honor.

Sounds like fun, right? Except that there would be no Game 163s anymore, so knock out the epic Tigers/Twins battle for the division in 2009. Likewise, the Rockies and Padres would never have played Game 163 in 2007.

Should the second wild card be added to the game, an NFL-style tiebreaker will most likely be used to determine outcomes when two teams tie for the wild card or division. On one hand, that's a bit disappointing, because Game 163s are tremendous fun. But on the other hand, that fun would simply be extended to the new wild-card playoff format and happen every year instead of having to wait for the occasional Game 163 scenario to roll around.

Either way, it would be a shocker if there wasn't a new playoff system in place for 2012.

And here's five more things that could happen this season ... 

Ramirez1. In the first game between the Red Sox and Rays, Manny Ramirez forgets he's on the Tampa Bay squad and runs on the field with the Red Sox to begin the game. He asks Crawford what he's doing in left field and why they are wearing opposite uniforms. Crawford tries to explain the situation, but ManRam simply shrugs and heads into the Green Monster.

2. Ozzie Guillen surprisingly releases a book about Jenks (remember when he said he could "write a book on the kid" in the offseason?), full of salacious details about Jenks' time in Chicago, including the revelation that Jenks ate a middle reliever during one game. In his first game against the White Sox in 2011, an enraged Jenks throws at the head of the first two batters, hitting them before Guillen comes out on the field to complain. Jenks then beans Guillen and the two brawl on the field, which leads to a multi-million dollar match between the two in UFC in which Jenks, who hired Mike Tyson as trainer, attempts to bite Guillen's ear off.

3. During one particularly heated Cincinnati-St. Louis matchup, the benches clear, and Johnny Gomes comes face to face with Adam Wainwright. Without a word exchanged, Gomes promptly delivers a crane kick to Waino. "First learn stand, then learn fly," Dusty Baker sagely observes.

4. Joe Maddon, who is already known for using uncommon words, takes things to a whole new level. Witness this quote: "David Price can unequivocally bung. How dexterous is the swain? He's as recherché as Sandy Koufax in his diurnal course." Good luck deciphering that.

5. Pujols announces the team he has chosen to sign with during the last homestand of the season -- against the Cubs on Sept. 25. In the bottom of the ninth inning, with the bases loaded, down three runs with a full count and the division title in the balance for the Cardinals, Pujols watches strike three right down the middle. As the crowd groans, Pujols rips open his jersey, revealing a Cubs home jersey underneath and dropkicks Tony La Russa as the announcers scream "NOOOOOOO!" And fade to black.

OK, so these five things won't happen, but one can dream. The rest you can expect.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed. 

Posted on: March 28, 2011 10:37 am
Edited on: March 28, 2011 10:38 am
 

Pepper: Learning curve for Dominicans

Dominican Republic

By Evan Brunell

Imagine being thrust in a new country where you don't know the language and are expected to perform at the top of your game in the job assigned to you. Should you fail, embarrassment awaits you back home.

Such is the life of teenaged Dominicans who make the leap to full-season ball in the United States. The Giants' Gabriel Cornier is no exception, but he's receiving a lot more assistance these days than ex-Giants manager Felipe Alou did when he went to the United States to pursue baseball. While Alou would eventually be called up in 1958, and enjoy a productive career both on and off the field, the early going was not easy.

Back then, Spanish was barely known, and Alou didn't know English at all. So when his manager told his team certain information one day, Alou pretended to understand.

"I come to the park with nothing but the clothes I was wearing, and I saw other players bring suitcases and I thought, 'What's going on here?' " Alou reminisced. "There was a bus parked outside and I see all the players get inside the bus, so I get in the bus. I had nothing.

"We went on a nine-day road trip. Nine days. I don't say anything because you don't want to sound stupid, but the guys figured it out and bought me another pair of pants and another shirt."

While Cornier has more support around him, with Spanish-speaking coaches and an English trainer on hand, even in the U.S. and received basic English training in the Dominican. However, it is still difficult for players, who are terrified of being released.

"You come over here, you leave your family there, they're putting all of their future on you making it," Alou said. :Every time their name is called, they think it's to be released. How do you tackle that? You cannot tell the kid, 'We're not going to release you' because maybe you do next week.

"If the Latinos go back home, what do they have there? Baseball is the only thing they have." (San Francisco Chronicle)

CINDERELLA STORY: Tom Wilhelmsen is 27 years old, has never pitched above Class A and was out of baseball from 2004-08 before pitching in indy ball in 2010. That leaves just 2003 and 2010 as seasons of experience with a major-league team, but the righty is one of eight candidates left for seven relief spots. (MLB.com)

LABOR PEACE: Worried that the labor negotiations for baseball could end up as contentious as the NBA and NFL negotiations? Don't worry -- an agreement could possibly be reached by season's end, and even the player's union is willing to talk about changes in revenue-sharing formulas. Even the mild hint of a work stoppage would be a shocker. (Boston Globe)

RIGHTY, LEFTY: The Yankees appear poised to move forward with a lineup that will have Brett Gardner leading off against right-handers. Derek Jeter will lead off against lefties as the team takes advantage of platoon splits. Also, coming Monday will be a majority of the final roster decisions for the Yankees. (The Journal News)

STADIUM ISSUES: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim can opt out of their stadium lease in 2016, but that's unlikely to happen given the process of building a new stadium would have to start by 2012 at the absolute latest. Angels owner Arte Moreno for his part believes the current 45-year-old stadium is viable, simply requiring structural upgrades. One potential issue is the city refusing to assist in renovations due to the team's name change that embarrassed the city. (Los Angeles Times)

PLAY THE MAN: The Diamondbacks have a power-hitting first baseman, but insist on not giving him an extended shot. Instead, Arizona will go with aging Russell Branyan and Yankees minor-leaguer Juan Miranda. That leaves Allen yet again on the outside looking in even as he brims with talent. It's time for Arizona to let Allen go to another organization to get his shot, Eric Seidman opines. (Fangraphs)

WANTED: LEFTY RELIEVER: The Mets are looking for a second left-handed reliever to help combat the potent lefty bats in the division. My suggestion? Take a look at lefty Ron Mahay, who was cut by the Dodgers Saturday. (Sports Illustrated via Twitter)

A TASTE OF CHICAGO: The Cubs have switched hot dog and pizza vendors, electing to remain with Chicago staples for each. Vienna Beef returns as the hot-dog supplier after last representing Chicago in Wrigley Field back in 1981 while D'Agostino's pizza replaces Connie's, which also lost out on acting as the White Sox's pizza provider, who will go with Nestle's DiGiorno's. The Cubs are emphasizing Chicago vendors to give fans -- of rough around 37 percent are from outside Illinois a year -- "an authentic Chicago experience." (Chicago Tribune)

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PHOTO: July 13, 2009; St. Louis, MO, USA; National League players Hanley Ramirez (second left), Albert Pujols (second left), Francisco Cordero (right), and Miguel Tejada (second right) pose with Dominican Republic minister of sports Felipe Payano during the 2009 All-Star workout day at Busch Stadium.

Posted on: March 26, 2011 11:37 am
Edited on: April 18, 2011 12:33 pm
 

Pepper: Japanese players coping

Daisuke Matsuzaka

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Sometimes the nature of our 24/7 news cycle makes us forget -- or at least move on from -- even the biggest of news stories get lost in the next big story.

Even though Japan is still dealing with the destruction of the earthquake and tsunami -- and will be for years -- we're not hearing as much about Japan right now. It's only natural. But that doesn't mean that everything's OK there.

Yankees pitcher Kei Igawa went to Japan last weekend and was deeply moved by what he saw.

"It was pretty disastrous," Igawa told the New York Daily News through an interpreter. "The roads were a mess, and when I was home, the water wasn't running. It was pretty hard for me."

Igawa's parents and family are OK, but keep in mind his hometown of Oarai well south of the epicenter and 100 miles from the damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima. He said his house didn't suffer flooding, but did suffer damage from the earthquake.

The Yankees allowed him to return home, where he spent five days and returned earlier this week.

"Compared to the rest of the country -- especially up north, where it was much worse, I feel really fortunate," Igawa said. "I wanted to stay home a little longer, because my family and friends are going through  hard time. But I also had to resume baseball, because that's my job."

Igawa will start the season in Triple-A. He's in the final year of his five-year, $20 million contract.

Many other Japanese players are trying to come to terms with what's going on at home, as well.

"Fortunately, I am a survivor, but it hurts, of course," the Angels Hisanori Takahashi told the Los Angeles Times through an interpreter. "It has definitely been difficult to focus on baseball.

"Seeing all the [TV] footage, you get a little numb, but it's a real thing. I have to keep my eye on the tragedy, but I also have to play baseball here."

Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka said he's still too emotional about the situation to discuss it publicly, but he showed how he felt by giving $1 million to the Red Sox Foundation, which is giving all that money to the Japanese Red Cross Society to help fund relief efforts. The Red Sox said Hideki Okajima, Junichi Tazawa and Itsuki Shoda have also made personal donations through the Red Sox Foundation.

Matsuzaka joins fellow stars Ichiro Suzuki (100 million yen, roughly $1.2 million) and Hideki Matsui (50 million yen, roughly $620,000) in making large donations to the Red Cross for relief efforts in Japan.

BATISTA FINED -- Reliever Miguel Batista was the only Cardinal fined for last week's scuffle between the Cardinals and the Nationals. Batista hit Washington's Ian Desmond to start the fracas. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

BUCK FALLOUT -- We've already had Buck Showalter backpedaling about his comments to Men's Health about his comments on Derek Jeter and the Red Sox. Derek Jeter, not surprisingly, wouldn't comment on Showalter's comment. However, a look at the stats say Showalter's wrong -- Jeter actually doesn't get the calls on the inside corder. [ESPN]

TULO'S FINAL FOUR -- Finally, a Final Four that matters. You can now vote for one of four songs Troy Tulowitzki will use for his at-bat music. Well, to me they're all crap, but I'm not the target audience. Tulowitzki had "Party in the USA" last year, so the selections this year are just as bad -- "Firework" by Katy Perry, "Baby" by Justin Bieber, "We R Who We R" by Ke$ha and "Yeah 3X" by Chris Brown. Vote here. [Denver Post]

THE LEGEND BEGINS -- I'm reading Jane Leavy's The Last Boy  about Mickey Mantle right now, so I knew about the legend of Mickey Mantle's home run at USC in 1961. Well, the Los Angeles Times remembers it too. A really cool story on the birth of the legend of the Mick.

MILLWOOD GOOD? -- Is Kevin Millwood really that bad? Looking at some of the recent pitchers to have 16 losses and an 82 ERA+ like Millwood did last season shows some pretty decent pitchers have done that before. [Baseball-Reference.com blog]

HE'S NOT FAT, HE'S BLOATED -- Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal explains he was bloated from medication, not fat when spring training started. Furcal ate contaminated meat in his native Dominican Republic in January and the drugs he took made him bloated. He looked big when he checked in, but he was just 193 pounds, about the same he usually checked in at. He's now at 188, just about where he likes to play. [Los Angeles Times]

D-BACKS BULLPEN ISN'T BORING -- Diamondbacks bullpen catcher Jeff Motuzas has discovered bored, rich relievers will pay people to amuse them. So, Motuzas takes on dares to pick up extra bucks. Among the things he's done -- snorted wasabi, eater regurgitated yogurt, left hot balm on his shaved armpits for an entire game and gotten shot in the earlobe with a BB gun. Livan Hernandez once paid him $3,000 to drink a gallon of milk in 12 minutes. The two also had a deal that Hernandez could punch him in the junk for $50 a pop -- with a $300 bonus after every 10th punch. [Wall Street Journal]

BUT IS HE WRONG? -- An anonymous "MLB star" had several things to say to  ESPN the Magazine about the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera, including "why isn't Cabrera paying a guy $100 a night to drive him around? Plenty of guys do that. That he didn't is a slap in his teammates' faces." [MLive.com]

ROCK THE KAZMIR -- Mike Scioscia didn't sound too optimistic about Scott Kazmir when he announced the lefty had made the team's rotation. If Kazmir struggles continue into the regular season, Matt Palmer may be an option. [Los Angeles Times]

TOGETHER WE'RE GIANT -- Our buddy Will Brinson loves the Giants commercials. I found them amusing, but still not as good as the Mariners commercials. I like the Cardinals ones better, too.

RIGGLEMAN DOESN'T CARE ABOUT YOUR STATS -- You've seen some good commercials, now listen to a bad one. The Washington Nationals, MASN and Jim Riggleman are attacking stats in their newest campaign. Apparently a bunt or a "well-placed single" are "smart" -- and the walk is recognized as a good thing. But yeah, a pretty silly campaign.

THE NATURAL ON THE HILL -- Robert Redford will throw out the first pitch at the Cubs' opener on April 1 against the Pirates. [Chicago Tribune]

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Posted on: March 23, 2011 7:23 pm
 

Orioles' Showalter rips Yankees, Red Sox

By Matt Snyder

One would think playing in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox -- not to mention the Rays -- would be a difficult enough task without angering the opposition. Yet that's exactly what Orioles' manager Buck Showalter decided to do in an interview for April's issue of Men's Journal . (via NorthJersey.com )
"The first time we went to Yankee Stadium, I screamed at Derek Jeter from the dugout," Showalter told the magazine. "Our guys are thinking, 'Wow, he's screaming at Derek Jeter.' Well, he's always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets – and yes, he [ticks] me off."

Of the Red Sox, Showalter was even more candid.

"I'd like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll," he said. "You got Carl Crawford 'cause you paid more than anyone else, and that's what makes you smarter? That's why I like whipping their butt. It's great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, 'How the hell are they beating us?' "
I'm confused here. Buck goes after the Red Sox for having a big payroll but said $205 million. That's the Yankees. The Red Sox are in the $170 million range. It's also funny he said he likes "whipping their butt." Again, not sure which team he's talking about, but it doesn't matter. Showalter's Orioles went 3-3 against both the Red Sox and the Yankees last season. That's hardly whipping anyone's backside. Maybe he meant to speak in the future tense and was talking about this season? If so, I won't be holding my breath.

Look, the Orioles are probably a good amount better than they were last season at this time, but that doesn't mean they're contenders in the AL East. I'll also give credit to Showalter for trying to establish to his players and the fans that he's not scared of the two financial powers in the division. It just seems a bit much (and going after Jeter? Really?). Plus, I've had enough with the whining about money. After all, the Orioles had an operating profit of over $25 million last season -- and the Red Sox lost money.

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Posted on: March 23, 2011 3:15 pm
 

Jeter, Yankees top 2010 merchandise sales

By Matt Snyder

The Captain might have his fair share of detractors, but he's still plenty popular, as is his team.

Wednesday, Major League Baseball released its list of top selling player jerseys and team merchandise. The New York Yankees topped the list of merchandise sales and their captain, Mr. Derek Jeter, was first for player jersey sales.

Considering Jeter has been the same number on the same team in the same model uniform since 1995, it's quite the feat. It's not like he got a new number or changed teams, thus causing the masses to flock to the stores seeking his new garb (a la Cliff Lee multiple times). It's just the same ol' number two in pinstripes. And it's still moving off racks faster than any other jersey in the majors. It's a testament to how he's played the game and conducted himself for the past 16 seasons.

Joe Mauer checked in at No. 2, with Roy Halladay's Phillies jersey placing third. The rest of the top 20, in order, are as follows: Chase Utley, Cliff Lee (including Mariners, Rangers and Phillies jerseys), Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Dustin Pedroia, Alex Rodriguez, Tim Lincecum, Mark Teixeira, Jason Heyward, Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Braun, Justin Morneau, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ian Kinsler, Ryan Howard, Buster Posey, Evan Longoria.

The top 10 teams in merchandise sales were rather predictable, considering the size of the markets and perceived popularity. After the Yankees, here is the rest of the top 10, in order: Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Cubs, Cardinals, White Sox, Braves, Twins, Tigers.

In somewhat related news, Brand Keys released "loyalty ratings" among fan bases earlier this week. It appears not every team was included in the poll, since only the top five and then "bottom five" are listed, but the bottom five teams are numbered 16-20. The Phillies checked in at No. 1, with the Yankees, Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers rounding out the top five. The Mariners, Diamondbacks, Royals, Orioles and Pirates were the "last" five. Again, though, if only 20 teams were polled, we can't be sure if these are completely accurate. Just something worth chewing on as we wait for the real games to begin (only eight days away!).

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Category: MLB
Posted on: March 7, 2011 12:45 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2011 5:10 pm
 

Yankees' Gardner working on bunting

Brett Gardner

By C. Trent Rosecrans

In today's Pepper, we talked about Brett Gardner maybe getting a shot at supplanting Derek Jeter as the Yankees leadoff man. It makes perfect sense, Gardner is crazy fast and gets on base at a good clip.

The one thing he may have to improve upon is bunting. In 995 plate appearances in the big leagues, he has just 10 bunt hits. You'd think with his speed, which is truly elite, he'd try to lay down more bunts. 

"The last few years, I just kinda got away from it, it's something I didn't really try to do, I guess it's something I didn't use as much as I should have," Gardner told CBSNewYork.com. "It's not something I've completely lost, it's something I'm going to continue to work at, something that will make more of a complete player and give me another weapon to use to get on base, get guys over and put the ball in the defense's hands and make them make mistakes."

Gardner had 18 bunt hits in 251 plate appearances at Double-A Trenton in 2009 in 2006, so it's not like he can't do it.

I'm not normally a big fan of the bunt as an offensive weapon, but for someone with superior speed such as Gardner, it can be a game-changer. At the very least, just the danger of him laying down a bunt could benefit the Yankees.

Gardner said he's been good at sacrifice bunts, but needs to work on bunting for hits.

"The thing for me is, I could sit out here all day and practice and do it right and do it right and do it right, but in game situation, your adrenaline is pumping and I'm always try to put the ball on the ground and run," Gardner said. "So it's a matter of staying in there a split-second longer and making sure I get the bunt down and a good bunt and then run as opposed to running out of the box and losing my angle and letting the bat head drop and fouling the ball off, which is a bad habit I've gotten in the last couple of years. I'm much better on a  regular sacrifice bunt because I take my time and I don't rush and I make sure I put the ball on the ground where I want to and for the most part I've been able to do that when I slow things down."

Gardner had seven bunt hits last season, so he is working on it. Still, he was successful on just 36.8 percent of his attempts for a base bunt hit, it's something with work he could improve upon.

The Angels' Erick Aybar and Julio Borbon of the Rangers led the big leagues last season with 18 bunt hits, while only seven more players had as many as 10 bunt hits. Texas' Elvis Andrus had 13, while Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco, Juan Pierre and Nyjer Morgan each had 12 bunts hits and Michael Bourn had 10. In that group, Blanco had the best percentage at 57.1 percent, while Pierre was the lowest at 21.8 percent.


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