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Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:46 am

3 Up, 3 Down: Hellickson good enough for Rays

Jeremy Hellickson

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Jeremy Hellickson, Rays: The rookie allowed just three hits and a run in 5 2/3 innings in what was likely the biggest start of his young career. It wasn't the prettiest thing, as he needed 117 pitches to get through the outing, but it was good enough. The right-hander walked four and stuck out four, lowering his ERA to 2.91. After the Ryas put up four runs in the top of the third, the Red Sox had a chance to answer, loading the bases with one out in the bottom of the inning. Hellickson did give up a run on Adrian Gonzalez's groundout, but after intentionally walking David Ortiz, he got Kevin Youkilis to ground out, ending the inning, leading the Rays to victory. He also improved his record to 13-10.

Jay Bruce, Reds: Bruce didn't start Thursday's game, but he finished it. Although Chris Heisey started the game in right and moved to left in the eighth inning. Bruce struck out to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning after Francisco Cordero blew the save. After Joey Votto doubled to lead off the 11th, Bruce hit the first pitch he saw from Cubs reliever James Russell into the visitor's bullpen in right field. It was Bruce's 31st homer of the season and the 99th of the 24-year-old's career.

Ross Ohlendorf, Pirates: After giving up a first-inning homer, the Pirates' right-hander gave Pittsburgh the lead with a three-run homer, the first of his career. In his 101st career at-bat, Ohlendorf recorded just his eighth hit and his first extra-base hit. As for the other part of his game, Ohlendorf allowed just four hits and two runs in seven innings, striking out six and walking none for his first win of the season, a 6-2 Pirates win in Los Angeles.

Max Scherzer, Tigers: When a team is on a winning streak, nobody wants to be the guy who blows it. Scherzer did -- even though he may have done his team a favor, as now manager Jim Leyland and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon can now change their underwear. Scherzer gave up a three-run homer to David DeJesus in the first inning and a Kurt Suzuki homer in the second to dig an early hole for the Tigers in a 6-1 loss to the A's. In all, he went five innings, allowing five runs on seven hits and giving up three homers. Not only did Scherzer snap the Tigers' winning streak, he also delayed the team clinching their first division title since 1987.

Shin-Soo Choo, Indians: Activated from the disabled list before Thursday's game in Texas, Choo left the game after the first inning with a strain to his left rib cage. He had suffered a strained left oblique last month before going on the DL. It's been a disappointing season for Choo, who grounded out to end the top of the first. Choo also spent 48 games on the disabled list with a broken left thumb. Overall, he's hitting just .259/.344/.390 with eight home runs in 36 RBI in 85 games this season.

David Wright, Mets: A two-time Gold Glover, Wright has had a hard time in the field as of late. On Thursday he committed his eighth error in his last 10 games. During those 10 games the Mets have gone 2-8 and on Thursday the team finished off a 1-8 homestand with a 10-1 loss to the Nationals. Wright also went 1 for 4 and left five men on base. During that 10-game stretch, Wright is hitting just .154/.267/.179.

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Posted on: September 15, 2011 10:52 pm

Playoff race: Breaks going Rays' way

Evan Longoria

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Things are certainly breaking the Rays way right now -- especially B.J. Upton's bat.

Thanks in small part to the flying end of Upton's bat, the Rays took the opening game of their crucial four-game set at Fenway Park, beating the Red Sox 9-2.

WIth two outs in the third inning and runners on first and second, Upton's bat splintered on a slow roller to shortstop. Just as Boston shortstop Marco Scutaro was about to field the grounder, the barrel of Upton's bat reached him and he had to dodge the piece of the bat, allowing the ball to go between his legs and John Jaso to score the game's first run and extend the inning. The next batter, Evan Longoria, homered to give Tampa an early 4-0 lead -- all thanks to the bounce of a bat.

The win pulls the Rays to within three games of the American League Wild Card, with three more games agains the Red Sox. A sweep here and it's a whole new ballgame.

Boston Red Sox
Remaining schedule: 3 vs. TB, 4 vs. BAL, 3 @ NYY, 3 @ BAL expectancy of wild card: 80.6 percent

Tampa Bay Rays
83-66, 3 GB
Remaining schedule: 3 @ BOS, 4 @ NYY, 3 vs. TOR, 3 vs. NYY expectancy of wild card: 7.8 percent 

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
82-67, 4 GB
Remaining schedule: 3 @ BAL, 4 @ TOR, 3 vs. OAK, 3 vs. TEX expectancy of wild card: 2.5 percent

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Posted on: September 15, 2011 3:34 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2011 6:17 pm

On Deck: Rays shippin' up to Boston


By Matt Snyder

Follow all the action live on's scoreboard. Also, keep your eyes on that Playoff Race page, which updates after each game concludes and has elimination numbers for every team still alive.

Beantown Throwdown: Oh. Yes. This is what it's all about. The Red Sox have a four-game lead over the Rays for the AL Wild Card. The Rays are now visiting the Red Sox for a four-game series. The pressure is definitely on the Rays for the time being, as they need to get at least three of four. A Red Sox split means a four-game deficit for Tampa Bay with 10 games to go, and that's an awfully tall order. Of course, if the Rays take the first two, the pressure would shift back to the Red Sox to avoid blowing what once looked an insurmountable lead (also worth noting, the Angels are currently a half-game behind the Rays, so if the Rays sweep, this thing might become a three-team race). On the other hand, the Red Sox could bury the Rays by winning three of four or sweeping them. In fact, a sweep would knock the magic number all the way down to three. As for the immediate action, the pitching matchup tilts in favor of the Rays Thursday night with Rookie of the Year candidate Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 2.96) of the Rays taking on Kyle Weiland (0-1, 6.75) of Boston. But that doesn't always decide the game. As senior writer Danny Knobler notes, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz are back in the Red Sox lineup, so that should help the hometown team. Rays at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m. ET.

Still Streaking: The Tigers were down to one inning Wednesday, trailing by three runs, but that still wasn't enough to break the winning streak. It now sits at 12. Thursday night, the Tigers are looking for lucky No. 13. Amazingly, considering where things were two months ago, the Tigers are now only 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees for the best record in the AL. With the Yankees idle Thursday, the Tigers can creep to three. Max Scherzer (14-8, 4.27) will start Thursday for Detroit as it visits the A's in Oakland. The A's send Brandon McCarthy (8-8, 3.45) to the mound. Tigers at A's, 10:05 p.m. ET.

Ogando back on hill: Rangers starting pitcher Alexi Ogando was 10-3 with a 2.72 ERA after stifling the Angels July 19. Since then, he's 2-5 with a 6.08 ERA. The Rangers skipped his turn in the rotation once and then let him back in for a September 10 start. He allowed five runs in five innings in a Rangers loss, though only three were earned. Still, he hasn't fared very well since mid-July. With the Angels idle Thursday night, a Rangers win could push the AL West lead to 3 1/2 games. Ogando (12-8, 3.71) will start against Fausto Carmona and the Indians. Fortunately for the Rangers, Carmona has been awful recently (6.84 ERA in last five starts). Indians at Rangers, 8:05 p.m. ET.

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Posted on: September 14, 2011 2:13 pm

If Cy Young was decided like Manager of the Year

By Matt Snyder

As my esteemed colleague C. Trent Rosecrans pointed out Monday, the Manager of the Year award is unavailable for certain managers in any given season. For example, the Phillies and Red Sox were heavily predicted to make the World Series in 2011. The Yankees are the Yankees, and the Giants and Rangers went to the World Series last season. So right there, Charlie Manuel, Terry Francona, Joe Girardi, Bruce Bochy and Ron Washington are virtually eliminated from the chance at winning the Manager of the Year award in their respective leagues.

It's not necessarily wrong, but it's still fun to imagine if the other awards were decided in the same fashion. Tuesday, I took a look at the MVP with this twist. Now, we'll go with the Cy Young Award in each respective league. Remember, expectations disqualify people in Manager of the Year voting, so we're doing that here, just for fun. Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez, Cliff Lee and several others aren't in contention because they are already established studs.

Here are three candidates for the Cy Young Award of each league, if voters reacted as they did in the Manager of the Year voting -- along with who I think would win and why.

American League

Doug Fister, Tigers
2010 numbers: 6-14, 4.11 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 93 K, 171 IP
2011 numbers: 8-13, 3.06 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 130 K, 197 1/3 IP, 3 CG
Fister was already improved in 2010, but he's been lights out since joining the contending Tigers (2.28 ERA, 0.99 WHIP in eight starts) and helped them build up some incredible momentum in their race to win a division title for the first time since 1987. His deadline deal to the Tigers garnered modest fanfare, but it has ended up being a huge splash and he gives them a bona fide No. 2 behind Verlander in the playoffs.

Justin Masterson, Indians
2010 numbers: 6-13, 4.70 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 140 K, 180 IP, 1 CG, 1 SHO
2011 numbers: 11-10, 3.20 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 151 K, 205 1/3 IP, 1 CG
A question mark heading into the season, Masterson developed into the Indians' ace -- at least before the Ubaldo Jimenez trade -- as they stormed out of the gates and were in first place for a long time. He's faltered lately (5.85 ERA in his last five starts), but he's only 26 and has a big workload. Also give him major points for drastically lowering home run and walk rates.

James Shields, Rays
2010 numbers: 13-15, 5.18 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 187 K, 203 1/3 IP
2011 numbers: 15-10, 2.70 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 210 K, 226 1/3 IP, 11 CG, 4 SHO
So Shields nearly chopped his ERA in half while going from leading the majors in hits and earned runs allowed -- and the AL in home runs allowed -- to leading the AL in shutouts and the majors in complete games. He entered the season with just five complete games and two shutouts in his entire career (which was 151 starts). Just look at those numbers differences. It's utterly staggering.

And the winner is ... James Shields. Fister would likely get some late support and Masterson's growth has been great to watch, but Shields blows the rest of the field away here. He'd be the Kirk Gibson of this award.

National League

Johnny Cueto, Reds
2010 numbers: 12-7, 3.64 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 138 K, 185 2/3 IP, 1 CG, 1 SHO
2011 numbers: 9-5, 2.36 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 102 K, 152 1/3 IP, 3 CG, 1 SHO
Wow, look how he's trimmed that ERA. Cueto has been huge for the Reds this season as they struggled to get anywhere what they thought they would from some other starting pitchers, but he could only do so much on his own.

Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks
2010 numbers: 9-10, 3.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 168 K, 194 IP
2011 numbers: 19-4, 2.99 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 182 K, 208 IP, 1 CG, 1 SHO
Sure, the D-Backs being a vastly improved team this year helps the win-loss record, but Kennedy is one of the biggest reasons for the surprise season. He's grown into an ace far quicker than most predicted. In fact, most scouting outlets only had him pegged as a middle-of-the-rotation guy.

Ryan Vogelsong, Giants
2010 numbers: 3-8, 4.81 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, 110 K, 95 1/3 innings ... oh, and these were spread across Double-A and Triple-A.
2011 numbers: 10-7, 2.66 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 124 K, 162 1/3 IP, 1 CG, 1 SHO
From 2000-06, Vogelsong had a 5.26 ERA and 1.59 WHIP for the Giants and Pirates. He then played three years in Japan before returning for an uninspiring season in the minors last year (as you can see above). He the joined the Giants as a 33 year old and was thrown into the rotation due to injury issues in late April. By the All-Star break he was 6-1 with a 2.17 ERA and headed to Phoenix as an actual All-Star. He's one of the better stories in baseball this year.

And the winner is ... Ryan Vogelsong. You could make a great argument for any of the three, but I'm going with Vogelsong because he came from completely out of nowhere. Cueto and Kennedy at least had hope for big seasons, especially as they should be progressing with more age and experience. Vogelsong was barely even an afterthought entering the year, and no one expected him to ever be a meaningful major-league player.

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Posted on: September 13, 2011 10:24 pm

Playoff race: Red Sox power way to 4-game lead

By Evan Brunell

On the backing of an offensive explosion from Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox gave Tim Wakefield his 200th career victory as Boston stomped on the Blue Jays 18-6.

Combined with 4-2 loss by the Rays, the Red Sox have now moved to four games ahead in the wild card, adding significant breathing room to the proceedings for the Red Sox. The Rays and Red Sox still have a four-game set coming up on Thursday that can still turn the wild-card race on its ear, but a four-game deficit this late into the season is a tough task. The Red Sox and Rays both have 15 games left. If the Sox go just 7-8, the Rays need to go 15-3 the rest of the way to win the wild card. That's a lot to ask, especially with the grueling schedule the Rays have the rest of the way.

After Wednesday's series finale against the Orioles, the Rays have seven games against the Yankees, four against the Red Sox and three against the dangerous Jays. That's a lot of competition to go up against. The Red Sox also face the Rays and Yankees, but only seven times combined with an additional seven against the Orioles. Suffice it to say that unless the Rays can really shake the Red Sox in the upcoming series, this race is effectively over.

Boston Red Sox
Schedule remaining: 1 v. TOR, 4 v. TB, 4 @ BAL, 3 @ NYY, 3 @ BAL expectancy of wild card: 79.5 percent

Tampa Bay Rays
82-65, 4 GB
Schedule remaining: 1 @ BAL, 4 @ BOS, 4 @ NYY, 3 v. TOR, 3 v. NYY expectancy of wild card: 8.5 percent

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Posted on: September 13, 2011 7:45 pm

Don't count out Mets in B.J. Upton sweepstakes


By Evan Brunell

B.J. Upton spoke to Craig Heist of WTOP (via in Washington on Tuesday, indicating that he wanted to stay with the Rays, but would also love to play in Washington. Interestingly enough, Upton also mentioned the Mets as a potential bonus to playing in the NL East.

“If I’m not, playing in Washington would kind of be playing close to home. I just want to play anywhere. … Since you brought up Washington, it would be kind of cool to play close to home and definitely play with the guy in Ryan Zimmerman that I played with growing up," Upton said. "That would be kind of a cool thing. I’ve known him for a long time. … To be on the team with him and playing in the division [against Mets third baseman] David Wright, who I also grew up with, that would be a cool thing, but right now, my heart is with the Rays.”

The Rays seem a lock to trade the center fielder in the offseason as he enters his final season of arbitration. Tampa had solicited offers at the trade deadline for the slugger, but couldn't agree on anything. With a rising salary, Upton is a prime candidate to be moved, especially as the Rays undershoot financial projections. Washington hasn't been secret in its desire for a long-term center fielder, believing Upton could be that man.

But now that Upton has mentioned the Mets, it's fair to wonder if that could end up a possible destination. The Mets play in a large market, which is enticing to many players, plus it would be near Upton's home of Virginia. While the Nats are obviously closer, the Mets are not especially far, plus would visit Washington quite a few times during the season. Add in the fact that Upton appears to be interested in playing against Wright (so why not with?), then the Mets could have a chance for Upton's services.

However, that chance will likely come in free agency, not trade. As a rebuilding team, it wouldn't make much sense for New York to deal prized prospects for Upton, despite being just 27 years old. But as the Mets increasingly appear to be looking past 2012 toward 2013, Upton's hitting the free-agent market after next season is just in time for New York's ability to get back into the big-contract business. The 2013 class is looking quite healthy, as Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Matt Kemp, Shane Victorino, Andre Ethier and Carlos Quentin all project to be free-agent outfielders. That would only help the Mets more, who could make a play for Upton or any other outfielder and pay less due to the ample supply available.

The odds remain that Upton winds up with the Nationals, because both sides clearly have an interest in doing so. But given Upton's comments, don't count out the Mets.

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Posted on: September 13, 2011 2:37 pm
Edited on: September 13, 2011 2:45 pm

On Deck: Rays in the spotlight


By Matt Snyder

Make sure to keep your eyes on the live scoreboard to follow along with all the game action on this Tuesday evening. Also, stay up to the minute on the playoff races in a convenient one-stop shop.

Red Hot Rays: In what is increasingly becoming the big story of September, the Rays have climbed to within three games of the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card race and have presently won five in a row. With a four-game series in Boston looming in the second half of this week, the Rays will look to get even closer before playing head-to-head again. Tuesday, they square off against the Orioles. David Price (12-12, 3.40), who has pitched better than his record and ERA show, gets the ball for the Rays, while Alfredo Simon (4-8, 4.83) goes for the O's. Price is locked in right now, too, as he has a 1.64 ERA in his last six starts. Simply put: The Red Sox better win, because a Rays victory appears likely. Rays at Orioles, 7:05 p.m. ET.

Verlander goes for 23; Kennedy 20: The leaders in the archaic, yet still mainstream, wins stat for the season in each respective league both start Tuesday night. Tigers ace Justin Verlander (22-5, 2.44) faces the White Sox, who are the last team to beat him. He has won 10 straight games since the Sox got him on July 15. Meanwhile, the Tigers themselves have also won 10 straight, burying the rest of the AL Central. Over in the NL, Diamondbacks ace Ian Kennedy (19-4, 2.90) will face the Dodgers. Kennedy entered the season with 10 career wins, so it's quite a story -- just as his first place D-Backs are. Chad Billingsley (10-10, 4.30) is his counterpart in Dodger Stadium. Tigers at White Sox, 8:10 p.m. ET. Diamondbacks at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. ET.

No Minor start: The Braves have lost four games in a row and it's gotten to the point that the Cardinals should be visible in their rearview mirror in the NL Wild Card standings (it's 4.5 games now). With Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson on the shelf, the Braves could definitely use a big start out of someone. Tuesday night, it's Mike Minor's (5-2, 4.32) turn to give it a go. Brad Hand (1-6, 3.91) gets the ball for the Marlins. Marlins at Braves, 7:10 p.m. ET.

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Posted on: September 13, 2011 9:59 am
Edited on: September 13, 2011 10:13 am

Pepper: More to the Mets' 9/11 hats story?

By Matt Snyder

One big storyline that emerged in baseball Sunday night was the Mets not being allowed to wear first responder (NYPD, FDNY, etc.) hats during the national telecast on ESPN. They did wear them in pre-game festivities -- as seen above on Ronny Paulino -- but not during the actual game, per MLB rule.

It turns out, according to a report from the New York Post Tuesday, there may be more than initially met the eye. Reportedly, commissioner Bud Selig called the Mets Sunday night and was "irate" that the team threw Major League Baseball under the proverbial bus.

"[Selig] got embarrassed by it," a Mets official said (New York Post). "The game got moved into prime time because of 9/11, and [MLB] ended up getting embarrassed."

The report also notes that Joe Torre -- who was named as the person who ordered the Mets to not wear the hats -- said there was a league-wide memo sent out but nothing specifically about the Mets, nor was the message anything "heavy-handed."

And then there's this (New York Post):
But another source said Mets COO Jeff Wilpon was "back and forth" with the commissioner's office on the matter until the proverbial 11th hour, when it was decided the Mets, on the hook for a $25 million loan from MLB, shouldn't risk the wrath of Selig.
So, if all this is true, the Mets basically forced their players to comply and let the commissioner's office take the blame in nefarious manner -- even though they didn't want to risk the wrath of Selig?

It's hard to know who to trust here. It seems like there's blame to be placed in both camps, but the bottom line is the players should have just been allowed to wear the special hats. It's a hat. Don't give me slippery slope on this. It's the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 in New York City. That's a special circumstance. Whether it's Wilpon, Selig, Torre or any combination of the three, someone dropped the ball.

"Moneyball" venom: There's a story in the LA Times about the "Moneyball" movie coming out and how polarizing it is. One telling quote is how, after winning the World Series last season, Giants executive Tony Siegle said "so much for Moneyball" in celebration. Later in the article, Siegle cops to having never read the book. And here's the crux of my criticism with those criticizing "Moneyball." The book wasn't saying A's general manager Billy Beane invented sabermetrics (he didn't) or that he was reinventing the wheel (he wasn't). It was just a story about a GM trying to find a creative way to compete with a less than competitive payroll. And he did for several years. It doesn't claim he invented on-base percentage or that he's a genius. It's a story. A good one. Maybe read the book before you complain about it. Nothing drives me more crazy than hearing something like "Moneyball doesn't work." Moneyball is a book -- and now a movie -- not a strategy.

More McCourt hate? Click here and check out the picture. Notice the MLB produced a poster talking about a special promotion where all the teams are giving money to Stand Up To Cancer. Also note the asterisk and specific mention the Dodgers aren't giving to the charity. The Sons of Steve Garvey notes that the Dodgers are giving proceeds to their own cancer charity (ThinkCure) and this could just be another way of Selig's office to sleight McCourt's administration.

More Rays' financial woes: It's no secret the Rays have money troubles, despite a stellar on-field product for the past handful of seasons. Payroll was cut after last season and several guys who had previously been key pieces were either traded or walked via free agency. Still, things are tighter than ever. " ... we’ve clearly fallen short on our financial projections," principle owner Stuart Sternburg said ( "We have to make some projections but I could not have projected our attendance would be down what it was. I don't think anybody would have thought that either. ... Nothing positive happened financially this year. We were last (in attendance going into the weekend). I hadn't even realized that. I didn't forecast last."

Berkman's leverage: Outfielder Lance Berkman has enjoyed a career renaissance with the Cardinals this season and reports have indicated he wants to stay put. In fact, several reports from the St. Louis area said the Cardinals didn't trade Berkman when he cleared waivers in the last week of August because they feared that would prevent them from retaining him. So it seemed like a pretty sure thing he'd stay put. Not so fast, tweets Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Strauss says it might not be a sure thing and that Berkman has leverage. Remember also, the Cardinals' payroll is going to be tight if they retain free-agent-to-be Albert Pujols.

'Man in White' travels to Minnesota? One of my favorite storylines of the season has been mocking those who really believe Jose Bautista and the Blue Jays are aided by a rogue sign stealer in Toronto. So, of course, since that story broke I make it a point to pass along whenever the Jays either don't hit well at home or explode on the road. And check this one out, courtesy of The Hardball Times: Bautista has seven career home runs in 34 plate appearances in Minnesota's Target Field. Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Denard Span, Ben Revere, Nick Punto and Tsuyoshi Nishioka have combined for 1,683 plate appearances in the Twins' new home. And they've combined for six home runs. Amazing. At his pace in that number of plate appearances, Bautista would hit 347 home runs.

Rangers staying in house: Some rumors have indicated the Rangers might be in on the Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder sweepstakes, but instead the Rangers are reportedly going to stick with Mitch Moreland at first base ( It makes at least some sense. They'd be better served shoring up pitching -- All-Star starting pitcher C.J. Wilson is a free agent, too -- than worrying about beefing up an already potent offense. Plus, Moreland is only 26, really cheap and under team control for a while. If he further develops his power stroke (16 home runs and 21 doubles this year), he'll end up being a bargain.

No safety helmets for Philly: Despite second baseman Chase Utley suffering a concussion from being hit in the helmet by a pitch, the Phillies players are still declining to use a new, safer helmet model (

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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