Tag:Matt Garza
Posted on: May 18, 2011 2:57 pm
 

Benoit out as setup man: Leave Rays at your peril

By Matt Snyder

The Detroit Tigers signed right-handed reliever Joaquin Benoit to a three-year, $16.5 million contract this past offseason to serve as their eighth-inning bridge to closer Jose Valverde.

In return, Benoit's provided them with three losses, a 7.98 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in 14 2/3 innings. He's been especially dreadful in his last six outings, having allowed 12 earned runs in five innings (that's a 21.60 ERA, in case you're wondering). In turn, the Tigers have made the decision to stop using him in setup situations, at least temporarily.

"He's an important piece of the puzzle," manager Jim Leyland said, "but we're going to have to look at it and figure something out. I'll have to figure out the strategic part." (MLB.com)

Anyway, the Benoit news got me thinking. The Rays lost of a good chunk of production from last season's 96-win AL East champions, and most of those guys seem to be struggling. It's not just the big names, either, it's almost everyone.

Check this out:

Carlos Pena -- Had a .457 OPS through May 2 with zero home runs and six RBI. He's been scorching hot since, but it's only gotten his line to right in line with where he was last season, which was by leaps and bounds his worst as a Ray.

Jason Bartlett -- .675 OPS last season, .617 this season.

Carl Crawford -- He's having a good May, but still has only gotten his OPS up to .524. Basically, he's on pace to have the worst year of his career by far.

Matt Garza -- He's actually pitched well, but weather, bad luck on balls in play, bad defense and poor run support have made sure that he's just 2-4 through nine starts.

Rafael Soriano -- The man who was probably the best closer in baseball last season is already hated by most Yankees fans due to his 5.40 ERA, several blown leads and indifferent attitude. And now he's got an elbow injury.

Lance Cormier -- In two years for the Rays, he had a 3.55 ERA. So far for the Dodgers? 8.71.

Benoit -- He had a 1.34 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings last year. See the intro for how this season is going.

Dan Wheeler -- 3.35 ERA and 46 strikeouts for the Rays in 48 1/3 innings last season. This year he's given the Red Sox 10 1/3 innings -- in which he's allowed 18 hits and 13 earned runs -- and a DL-stint.

Randy Chaote and Grant Balfour are the exceptions to the rule, evidently. Both are throwing well in new homes.

Still, that's a pretty big group of people to have left and gotten worse (or in Garza's case, had less fortune) in just one season.

Meanwhile, Casey Kotchman, Sam Fuld, Johnny Damon, Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz and a handful of others have helped propel the Rays into first place. Again.

This is yet another reason the Rays' front office is the best in the business. Whether it's knowing when to give up on players, when to cash in via trade, when to bring guys in at the absolute optimal time, how to develop the players or how to brainwash them into only playing well for the Rays, it's working.

If only they could generate enough revenue to get the payroll into the $80 million range. It would be interesting.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: May 18, 2011 1:46 am
 

3 up, 3 down: McCann saves the day

Brian McCann

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Brian McCann, Braves -- Like Dante Hicks, McCann wasn't even supposed to be there today. Getting the customary off day in a night game after a day game, McCann came into the game as a pinch hitter with two outs in the ninth inning, tying the game with a homer off Mark Melancon. Then with a man on in the 11th, McCann came up again and it was the same result, a homer off of reliever Jeff Fulchino, giving the Braves a 3-1 win over the Astros.

Francisco Liriano, Twins -- Liriano struck out nine and walked one, while giving up three hits and a run in seven innings against the Mariners to snap the Twins' nine-game losing streak. The Twins scored two in the first off Seattle starter Felix Hernandez, giving Liriano all the Twins would need for the victory.

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees -- Rodriguez tied the game with a solo shot in the fourth and then gave the Yankees the lead in the sixth with another solo homer. It was a good day for struggling Yankees -- Rodriquez was hitting .171/.236/.232 in his last 21 games leading up to Tuesday's two-homer performance, while Jorge Posada went 2 for 3 in his return to the lineup. The win ended the team's six-game slide.


Cubs defense -- All seven of the Reds' runs in Tuesday's 7-5 victory were unearned, as the Cubs committed four errors in the loss. The first came in the fourth inning with bases loaded and two outs, when Carlos Pena couldn't field a ball hit by pitcher Edinson Volquez that drove in a run, but then pitcher Matt Garza picked up the ball and made a throwing error, allowing two more runs to score and tie the score. In the Reds' fourth-run eighth inning, Kerry Wood's throwing error allowed the Reds to tie the game and put the winning run on third. ANd then after Chris Heisey gave the Reds the lead with a sacrifice fly, the Reds added Cub-assisted run later in the inning when Kosuke Fukudome missed the cutoff man -- and Starlin Castro failed to back it up -- following Joey Votto's double, keeping the team from even getting a play at the plate on Paul Janish, who scored from first. Janish likely would have scored without the miscue, but with it, there was not even a play at the plate.

Angels pitchers -- Anaheim put up a Vin Mazzaro on Tuesday, allowing 14 runs to the A's in a 14-0 loss late Tuesday. Starter Tyler Chatwood gave up seven runs (five earned) and seven hits in 2 1/3 innings, Trevor Bell allowed a run on three hits in two innings, Kevin Jepsen allowed five runs on four hits in an inning of work, followed by Rich Thompson allowed a run on a hit and two walks in 1 1/3 innings. Finally Hisanori Takahashi worked a scoreless inning to cap things off for the Angels.

High-price setup men -- The Yankees put Rafael Soriano on the disabled list Tuesday due to "stiffness" and "soreness" in his right elbow, a day after he criticized  the team's offense. Meanwhile, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Joaquin Benoit has lost his job as the team's primary setup man after his three-run eighth inning on Monday. He's allowed 12 earned runs in five innings in his last six appearances, with his ERA up to 7.98. The good news is he's only got two years and $11 million left on his contract after this season.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: May 1, 2011 3:48 pm
Edited on: June 1, 2011 1:03 pm
 

Players of the Month: Bautista, Weaver



By Matt Snyder


April was a month chock full of big individual performances in the ultimate team sport.

April's Best
Expert Batter Pitcher
Knobler Bautista Weaver
Miller Bautista Weaver
Brunell Bautista Garza
Rosecrans Bautista Johnson
Snyder Bautista Weaver
Fantasy Bautista Weaver
It was a month when we saw Andre Ethier put together a 26-game hitting streak en route to a .380 batting average. We saw his teammate Matt Kemp storm out of the gate as hot as anyone and slug a few walk-off home runs. Lance Berkman and Alfonso Soriano have apparently discovered the fountain of youth, while Alex Gordon had a breakout month four years in the making. Ryan Braun and Joey Votto have hit the ball as consistently well as anyone in the game. Matt Holliday returned in less than two weeks from an appendectomy and continued to mash. In the Big Apple, veteran Alex Rodriguez and youngster Ike Davis have been raking. Carlos Quentin and Troy Tulowitzki had stretches where they were hitting everything in sight. Ben Zobrist had one incredible double-dip and young Brett Wallace is finally making good on his promise.

April was also a time where Josh Johnson dominated the entire NL. Dan Haren showed he can still be a staff ace, while Michael Pineda showed glimpses of his ace potential. Matt Garza learned how to strike guys out at a much higher rate than ever before, while Roy Halladay just continued to do what he's done for his entire career. Alexi Ogando and Justin Masterson have surprised in a good way, while Jaime Garcia and Trevor Cahill prove last year was no fluke. Kyle Lohse, Aaron Harang and Josh Beckett turned back the clock, while Zach Britton showed up a bit early. And what has gotten into James Shields?

April was about much more than everything above, but those are just a few of the players who have come through with exciting performances thus far in 2011 as we turn the calendar to May.  

But above and beyond all else, in terms of individual players, April was all about Jose Bautista and Jered Weaver -- just look at the CBSSports.com staff awards for April's top batter and pitcher.

Batter of the Month
Danny Knobler Scott Miller
Jose Bautista Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
No top player in baseball had more to prove, because no other player had so many people asking whether he could repeat 2010. His major-league high 28 walks show the respect that comes with a 54-home run season, but his nine home runs and American League-leading .366 batting average show he's taking advantage when they pitch to him.
Jose Bautista Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
Not only is Bautista leading the AL in both batting and homers, he's also leading in OPS and runs scored. Nobody matched his combination of average and production in the first month -- though Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist gave it his one-day best during the doubleheader in Minnesota last week!
Evan Brunell C. Trent Rosecrans
Jose Bautista Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
Pitchers are rightfully terrified of Jose Bautista these days as he is delivering with a .366 average and nine home runs entering play Sunday. He's one of three qualified players with an OBP over .500. Overall, just a dominant month by someone who still had plenty of doubters. What are they thinking now?
Jose Bautista Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
As unbelievably good as Bautista's 2010 was, his April of 2011 was not only better -- but significantly better. Not only does he lead the majors in on-base percentage (.532), slugging (.780), OPS+ (235), walks (28) and runs (25), while leading the American League in homers (9) and batting average (.366) -- he hasn't even grounded into a double play so far this year.
Matt Snyder Fantasy -- Scott White
Jose Bautista Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
His breakout season in 2010 was an incredible outlier as compared to his previous career numbers, but it most certainly wasn't a fluke. Bautista's numbers are showing he's one of the game's most feared sluggers, including an MLB-high 28 walks heading into Sunday. 
Jose Bautista Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
Not only did Bautista lead all of baseball in both slugging percentage and on-base percentage, but he led all hitters in Fantasy points -- and he did it despite missing half a week for a personal matter. That's one way to quiet the skeptics coming off his out-of-nowhere 54-homer campaign.
Pitcher of the Month
Knobler Miller
Jered Weaver Jered Weaver, Angels
It's hard not to pick Josh Johnson, who had us thinking no-hitter in nearly every start. But as Scott Miller pointed out in his fine column last week, only seven pitchers since World War II have gone 6-0 in their team's first 23 games with a WHIP under 1.00. I can't think of much that Johnson did wrong. I can't think of anything Weaver did wrong.
Jered Weaver Jered Weaver, Angels
Weaver's WHIP (0.79) is ridiculous, and when a lineup as disciplined as the A's begin hacking at first pitches because they know they don't have a chance if Weaver gets ahead -- as the Athletics did last Monday night -- you know it's a special guy.
Brunell Rosecrans
Matt Garza Matt Garza, Cubs
Garza is 1-3, but that doesn't mean he's awful. His 1.98 xFIP leads baseball along with an 11.87 K/9; his peripherals suggest he's actually been unlucky so far, too. He's baseball's hottest pitcher hidden behind a won-loss record that does not reflect actual pitching performance.
Josh Johnson Josh Johnson, Marlins
It wasn't until his sixth and final start of April -- on the last day of the month, no less -- that Johnson had allowed a hit to any batter the first time through the order. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning on opening day and took a no-no into the eighth in third start. His 3-0 record and 0.88 ERA are only the tip of the iceberg when describing how good he was this month.
Snyder Fantasy -- Al Melchior
Jered Weaver Jered Weaver, Angels
Very tough to pick someone other than Johnson here, but I give the nod to Weaver based upon his having thrown more innings, complete games and strikeouts with less walks in the same number of starts. Otherwise, they're basically identical and have been completely dominant.
Jered Weaver Jered Weaver, Angels
Josh Johnson may have a slightly lower ERA, and Roy Halladay may have a better strikeout-to-walk ratio, but nobody has been closer to perfection than Weaver. All six of his appearances have been quality starts, and he has allowed more than one run only once.

Danny Knobler and Scott Miller are Senior MLB Writers; Evan Brunell, C. Trent Rosecrans and Matt Snyder are Eye on Baseball Bloggers; Al Melchior is a Fantasy Data Analyst; and Scott White is a Fantasy Writer.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: April 30, 2011 12:43 pm
Edited on: April 30, 2011 9:29 pm
 

On Deck: West Coast battle

Kuroda
on

By Evan Brunell

BATTLE OF THE SAME ERA: Both Tim Stauffer and Hiroki Kuroda have a 3.21 ERA. How much do you want to bet that the two won't have that in common after tonight's affair? The flailing Padres will meet the Dodgers, who are one game over .500 in a game where Andre Ethier will seek his 26th consecutive game with a hit. It's way too early to conjure up visions of Ethier taking down Joe DiMaggio, but he is coming awfully close to Luis Castillo's 30 straight games which remains the longest streak in recent years. Kuroda has his own streak, but it's a bad one as he's lost two consecutive starts in Dodger Stadium. He's never lost three in a row, but Stauffer has dominated the Dodgers lately with San Diego winning its last four starts with Stauffer on the mound against L.A. Padres at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. ET

DEBUT: Alex White makes his big-league debut for the Indians as he will host Rick Porcello and the Tigers. The surprising Indians continue to win, roaring out to a 17-8 record that includes 12 consecutive victories at home. White is Cleveland's top pitching prospect and replaces the injured Carlos Carrasco. The 22-year-old has torn Triple-A apart in the early going, logging a 1.90 ERA in four starts in what has been a meteoric rise through the farm system after being drafted with the No. 15 overall pick of the 2009 draft. He has a 28/5 K/BB ratio, an encouraging sign for his ability to hold his own in the majors. Still, making your first career start is no walk in the park, so it will be interesting to see how he performs. Tigers at Indians, 6:05 p.m. ET

CAN I GET A WIN, PLEASE? It's not Matt Garza's fault. The new Cubbie has 41 strikeouts on the season, which is tied for second in the NL. And it's not as if he's giving away victories elsewhere, as he's only coughed up nine walks and boasts a 4.11 ERA on the season. Yet, Garza is seeking his first win as a Cub after starting the year 0-3. He'll look to keep Chicago rolling after snapping a four-game losing streak Friday night against the Diamondbacks. Ian Kennedy will be a tough battle for Garza, and it's easy to see Garza dropping to 0-4 with Kennedy on the mound. Kennedy three-hit the Phillies Monday for his first career game, denying Cliff Lee a victory. He's been up and down over his career so far, but could be ready for a leap forward after allowing no walks and striking out 10 Phillies. That's hard to do against that offense. Cubs at Diamondbacks, 8:10 p.m. ET

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed. 
Posted on: April 11, 2011 10:29 am
Edited on: April 18, 2011 11:54 am
 

Pepper: No change in the Cards at closer

Ryan FranklinBy C. Trent Rosecrans

Three out of four isn't bad. Well, unless you're a closer and you've blown three of four save chances.

The only thing worse than having a closer that can't close is the manager having zero confidence in anybody else in the bullpen. 

When St. Louis manager Tony La Russa was asked if he was considering changing his closer from Ryan Franklin, he answered, "who's better?"

"Somebody's got to come up with somebody that's better on our club right now," La Russa told MLB.com's Matthew Leach. "The fact is that right now those young guys aren't better."

The young guys are Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte, both of whom are being groomed to take over for Franklin.

In fairness to Franklin, errors by Albert Pujols and Colby Rasmus with two outs in the ninth led to two victories by the Giants on Friday and Saturday, respectively. However, the way the Cardinals are constructed, defense will not be bailing out too many pitchers this season, and Pujols and Rasmus are two of the teams' better defenders.

Sunday the Cardinals found a way to avoid a closer breakdown -- by giving its pitchers a five-run lead to close out. They were successful, salvaging the series against the Giants with a 6-1 get-away day win in San Francisco.

RED-HOT Rangers -- Jeff Wilson of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram joins Lauren Shehadi to talk about the Rangers' great start.

CABRERA HELPING CABRERA -- The influence of veteran Orlando Cabrera has already started paying off for the Indians. During spring, Cabrera noticed Asdrubal Cabrera's approach in batting practice was that of a slugger, not a shortstop. He told him to try that in a game sometime. During the Indians' seven-game winning streak, Asdrubal Cabrera is hitting .316 with three homers and nine RBI. Asdrubal Cabrera had three homers all of last season. [MLB.com]

SIX-MAN ROTATION? -- The White Sox may look at a six-man rotation when Jake Peavy returns because of the performance of Phil Humber, at least on a short-term basis. [Chicago Tribune]

NICE MATCHUP -- For just the 21st time in history, two authors of perfect games will start against each other tonight, as Oakland's Dallas Braden faces Chicago's Mark Buehrle.

DUNN TAKE BP -- White Sox slugger Adam Dunn took batting practice before Sunday's game against the Rays and could return to the team's lineup as soon as today.

"It was good to get out of solitary confinement and hang out with the general population, you know what I mean," Dunn told the Chicago Tribune's Dave van Dyck.

However, Dunn said he was done making predictions about when he'd return when asked if he could play today against Oakland.

TINKERING -- Derek Jeter isn't the only Yankee messing with his mechanics -- right-hander Phil Hughes tinkered with his motion during his bullpen session on Sunday. Hughes is attempting to use more of the bottom half of his body in his delivery. [New York Times]

ROUSING THE TROOPS -- Rays manager Joe Maddon tried to eject all four umpires in Sunday's 6-1 loss to the White Sox. [St. Petersburg Times]

Enjoy this video while it lasts (why MLB.com won't allow embedded videos, I just don't know...)

LAROCHE CONFIDENT HE'LL BE BACK SOON -- Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said he doesn't expect to miss any time after leaving Sunday's game with a strained left groin. LaRoche left in the 11th inning against the Mets, but said today's day off for the Nationals would give him ample healing time. [MASNSports.com]

ZIMMERMAN UNSURE OF RETURN -- Unlike his teammate LaRoche, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is unsure when he'll return from his strained abdominal muscle. Zimmerman will be re-evaluated on Tuesday following the off day. [Washington Post]

YOUNG UNHAPPY -- Mets right-hander Chris Young wasn't perfect on Sunday and  that wasn't good enough for him or the Mets. In his first seven-inning outing in nearly two years, Young allowed just one hit and two walks, and the walk came back to hurt him, accounting for the lone run he gave up to the Nationals. After he left the game, Washington tied the game in the eighth inning before winning it in the 11th. Young picked up a no-decision, but is 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA in two starts for the Mets this season.  [ESPNNewYork.com]

BACK-TO-BACK -- Mark Prior pitched on back-to-back days for the Class A Tampa Yankees on Saturday and Sunday as he makes the transition from starter to reliever in an attempt to return to the majors for the first time since 2006. Prior's fastball reached 91 on both days. [MLB.com]

NO BIG DEAL -- Cubs pitching coach Mark Riggins downplayed conflicting statements from pitcher Matt Garza and manager Mike Quade following Garza's loss to the Brewers on Saturday. [Chicago Sun-Times]

NO REPLICAS FOR FANS -- The Giants will not make replica World Series rings available to fans, but you can by commemorative jewelry from the team. So, you know, if you've outgrown your class ring, you can get a ring that's symbolic of an achievement you had absolutely zero to do with earning yourself. But, you know, if you have $3,570 dollars just lying around with nothing else to really do with it, why not? It's not like there are charities that could use it more than you can use a 14K white gold ring with diamonds and your name on it that will repel women. Seriously, just buy one of the cool hats with the gold SF the team wore the other day. [San Francisco Chronicle]

NEW BOX -- The fine folks over at FanGraphs have unveiled their new boxscore. I swear there are some stats that aren't real in there just to see if you're paying attention. Seriously, there's just about everything you'd ever want in this box, and going through one could take longer than actually watching the game. And I mean that in the most awesome way possible. [FanGraphs.com]

OLD GLOVES -- A cool graphic on the evolution of the baseball glove, or at least Spalding's gloves (and a bonus Wilson one, even though I've always been a Rawlings guy). [UniWatchBlog]

NICE DAY AT THE PARK -- What's better than a beautiful Sunday at the ballpark? Try a day at the park followed by a post-game concert by the Avett Brothers. The band performed at Turner Field yesterday following the Phillies' 3-0 victory. My sisters-in-law and other friends went, plus one of my sisters-in-law met Kevin Gillespie in the beer line -- not a bad day.

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

Posted on: March 29, 2011 11:14 pm
 

3 up, 3 down for 3/29: Breaking training

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Chris Capuano3 UP

Chris Capuano, Mets -- The Mets' fifth starter closed out spring not only with three scoreless innings on Tuesday, but he also added a three-run double in the Mets' 8-2 victory over the Nationals. Capuano finished the spring with a 1.93 ERA, but won't pitch until April 9 because the Mets' schedule doesn't need a fifth starter until then. He'll spend the first series of the season in the bullpen.

Jaime Garcia, Cardinals -- Garcia had a much-needed good outing in the Cardinals' last game of the spring, going six innings and allowing just one run and three hits. He'd allowed 37 hits and 24 runs in 17 innings before Tuesday.

Major League Baseball -- In addition to new 7-day disabled list for concussions, MLB also includes mandatory baseline neurophysiological testing in the spring for player and umpires, which will help evaluate when players can return from concussions. 

3 DOWN

Drew Storen, Nationals -- Storen faced nine batters in the seventh inning of the Nationals' loss to the Mets, allowing four runs and seven hits, while recording just two outs. Three of the runs came on a homer by David Wright. It broke a streak of three straight outing without allowing a run. Sean Burnett had another scoreless inning this spring, likely taking the closer's job away from Storen.

Matt Garza, Cubs -- The new Cubs starter leaves Arizona with a 10.38 ERA after giving up seven runs on 11 hits and two walks in three-plus innings. On the bright side, he did strike out seven. Garza is scheduled to start the Cubs' third game of the season. Garza didn't give the Cactus League rave reviews after his first spring in Arizona, saying it "sucks."

Stars on the DL -- The list of pitchers added to the disabled list keeps growing. The latest is San Francisco closer Brian Wilson, who manager Bruce Bochy said on Tuesday will start the season on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle.

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

Posted on: March 29, 2011 5:56 pm
Edited on: March 29, 2011 9:35 pm
 

Five teams to improve, five to decline in 2011

By Matt Snyder

Finally, spring training is concluding. Now we have a day or two before your favorite team begins play. In the meantime, I'm here to bring you the top five teams to decline and the top five to improve upon their 2010 performances. In return, you accuse me of bias and call me names. It's fun for everyone, really. One thing to keep in mind is that improving or declining by more than 10 games is pretty drastic. On some of these, I'm looking at something like a seven-game swing.

TOP FIVE TEAMS TO IMPROVE

1. Boston Red Sox. Well, let's see ... Last season Kevin Youkilis only played 102 games, Dustin Pedroia saw action in 75 and Jacoby Ellsbury just 18. Josh Beckett was either injured or ineffective all season. Meanwhile the Red Sox added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to a team that won 89 games, despite all those injury woes -- and some underachieving from people like John Lackey. Easiest call on the board here, and even Yankees fans would have to concede this team is loaded.

2. Oakland A's. The pitching staff is stellar, even including the bullpen. The starting rotation is already really good and only getting better. The A's won 81 with one of the worst offenses in baseball last season. A full season of Coco Crisp, Kurt Suzuki bouncing back and the additions of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham don't exactly sound like adding Gonzalez and Crawford, but small improvements will do wonders for the pitching staff. Slugger Chris Carter is waiting in the wings, too, and don't be surprised if Billy Beane adds a bat at the deadline.

3. Colorado Rockies. Troy Tulowitzki needs to stay healthy and Dexter Fowler needs to get closer to his ceiling. I'm going out on a limb that both happen, along with steps forward from Chris Iannetta and Ian Stewart. Watch Jhoulys Chacin's development in the starting rotation, too. He's got big potential.

4. Milwaukee Brewers. This is contingent upon the big names staying healthy and Zack Greinke getting healthy as soon as possible, because this team is paper-thin. But the top line is very impressive. Plus, the division is not very good at all. The Brewers are going to score runs, get good starting pitching (again, assuming the health thing) and have a good back-end of the bullpen. If they can overcome defense and depth deficiencies, they'll win the Central.

5. Florida Marlins. Call it a bit of a gut call, but I really like the Marlins. The rotation really has great potential with Javier Vazquez returning to a pitcher's park in the NL East (he's apparently too intimidated by being a Yankee) and Ricky Nolasco having the ability to be a true No. 2 if he can ever stay consistent. Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad have -- again, this word -- potential to be solid at the end, with stud Josh Johnson leading the five-some. I love the outfield potential of Logan Morrison, Chris Coghlan and Mike Stanton, so long as all three can stay healthy. Hanley Ramirez is primed to have a big season, too.

TOP FIVE TEAMS TO DECLINE

1. San Diego Padres. Removing Gonzalez from the middle of the batting order changes the complexion of everything. And Mat Latos is already hurt, which does nothing to alleviate the concern of the huge workload increase he's experienced over the past two seasons. Most of all, the Padres just seem outmanned by the Giants and Rockies. Winning close to 90 games seems outlandish. Of course, many people said that last year, too.

2. Houston Astros. They overachieved in a big way last season according to run differential (the 'Stros allowed 118 more runs than they scored) and aren't any better. Other than Hunter Pence, the position players are either getting old (Carlos Lee), still unproven (Brett Wallace) or just not that good (Jason Michaels, Bill Hall, Michael Bourn). I'm not a huge fan of the rotation, but it's going to have to carry the team. Good luck with that.

3. Tampa Bay Rays. This is difficult. It's hard to not love the Rays for being so good at sticking with the Yankees and Red Sox in the mighty AL East on that paltry payroll. The loss of Crawford hurts. Carlos Pena wasn't overly productive -- though he was much better than his batting average said -- last season, but his presence helps everyone else see better pitches. That goes away with Dan Johnson at first. The loss of Matt Garza isn't a big deal, so long as Jeremy Hellickson does his thing and James Shields returns to form. The bullpen is worse, though. Look, I'd pick the Rays to win the NL Central if they were in it, but the Yankees aren't any worse and the Red Sox are way better. The Orioles should be better as well. I think the Rays win in the ballpark of 86 games, but that's 10 worse than last year and good for third place.

4. Toronto Blue Jays. They're still building and are moving in the right direction, but winning 85 games again in that division is a very tall order. Any offensive bounce-back from the likes of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind is negated by Jose Bautista's return to this planet.

5. St. Louis Cardinals. If anyone can pull this off, it's Dave Duncan, but losing Adam Wainwright was a death blow. Chris Carpenter is old and injury-prone. Jaime Garcia is due a massive regression. Kyle Lohse was awful last year and Jake Westbrook doesn't have good stuff. Kyle McClellan could very well prove a solid No. 5 starter, but he hasn't exceeded 75 2/3 innings the past three seasons in the bullpen. Can he really double that and remain effective? The outfield defense won't do the staff any favors, either. The Pujols/Holliday/Rasmus combo -- and even Lance Berkman in a best-case scenario -- is very solid, but there's only going to be so much they can do on some nights. I feel like mid-to-high 70s in wins, but Duncan and Tony La Russa find ways to make people wrong often.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: March 4, 2011 5:40 pm
 

Garza fine after taking liner off ribs

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Matt GarzaCubs starter Matt Garza felt good enough to joke about being hit in the ribs by a Jeff Francoeur line drive after the fact.

"It's all right," Garza told reporters (via MLB.com's Carrie Muskat on Twitter). "I've got tattoos all over my ribs."

Instead of being jabbed millions of times by a tiny needle, Garza was drilled instead by a baseball.

Garza fell to his knees after getting hit, while shortstop Starlin Castro alertly picked the ball up and got Francoeur at first. Garza then got Alex Gordon to strike out and Brayan Pena to fly out, to finish out the inning. Although he was scheduled to go three innings today, Garza understandably left after two. He gave up one hit and threw 26 pitches.

Garza wasn't having the best day to begin with, forgetting to pack his jersey in his bag before leaving the Cubs' home of HoHoKam Park in Mesa for the Royals' Surprise Stadium. He wore an extra jersey the team packs for such occasions, wearing No. 94 instead of his usual No. 17.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
More MLB coverage
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com