Posted on: August 20, 2010 1:57 am
Edited on: August 20, 2010 9:09 pm

3 to watch: The Legends of the dugout edition

Between them, they've managed nearly 8,000 major-league games. But do you want to guess how many games Bobby Cox and Lou Piniella have managed against each other?

It's not as many as you think. Only 81, with three more coming this weekend in Chicago -- presumably the final three, with both Cox and Piniella saying they'll retire at the end of the season.

The tally so far, according to research through baseball-reference.com , has Cox with 41 wins and Piniella with 40. They've never met in the playoffs, even though Cox went to the postseason 15 times with the Blue Jays and Braves, and Piniella made it to October seven times with the Reds, Mariners and Cubs.

Cox, whose Braves lead the Phillies by 2 1/2 games in the National League East, has another chance at the postseason this year. Piniella, whose Cubs are 22 games under .500, has a chance to go home when the regular season ends on Oct. 3.

And that, of course, is why Derrek Lee agreed to leave Piniella and join Cox, approving the trade that gave the Braves their new first baseman. The trade was finalized while Lee was sitting in the Cubs dugout during their Wednesday loss to the Padres, and Lee's first game for the Braves will be Friday afternoon against the Cubs.

"I told him to go get his uniform off, he wasn't on our team anymore and I didn't want him stealing our signs," Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster joked with reporters after the game. Dempster will be the first Cubs pitcher to face Lee, as he's the starter Friday. "He started trying to bribe me and asked me how I was going to pitch certain hitters. Sneaky dog."

On to 3 to watch:

1. According to Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News , the Giants sent playoff ticket invoices to their season ticket holders this week. As Baggarly said, incredibly bad timing, with the Giants falling six games behind the Padres in the National League West, and dropping out of the wild-card lead, as well. It doesn't help that ace Tim Lincecum has been pitching poorly, and it may not help Lincecum that his next start comes against Chris Carpenter, in Giants at Cardinals, Saturday night (7:15 ET) at Busch Stadium . A year ago, Lincecum against Carpenter would have been a Cy Young elimination battle. Now, with the Cards falling 3 1/2 games behind the Reds in the NL Central, it looks more like a wild-card elimination battle.

2. The Braves have the worst road record (27-33) of any team that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. With the Phillies getting healthy and hot, that may need to change if Cox is going to get that going-away postseason gift. This weekend against the struggling Cubs would be a good place to start. We'll know by the time Mike Minor faces Randy Wells, in Braves at Cubs, Sunday afternoon (2:20 ET) at Wrigley Field .

3. No matter how good or bad the teams out West are, East Coast teams always seem to fear West Coast trips, especially late in the season. Sure enough, the Rays lost the first game of their current seven-game trip to the coast, falling to the A's, 4-3, on Thursday night. The Rays are actually 6-4 on the Coast this season, but they're 16-19 since the start of 2008 (basically, since they've been good). The big game this weekend is the matchup of Dallas Braden and Matt Garza, in Rays at A's, Sunday afternoon (4:07 ET) at the Coliseum , in a matchup of two of the five pitchers who have thrown no-hitters this season.

Posted on: August 18, 2010 1:02 pm
Edited on: August 18, 2010 1:37 pm

Braves closing in on deal for Cubs' Lee

With a chance to get back to the postseason for the first time in five years, the Braves are working towards a deal to acquire Derrek Lee from the Cubs.

A source familiar with the talks said the trade was likely to be completed, and CSN Chicago reported Wednesday morning that Lee is expected to waive his no-trade clause to allow the deal to go through.

Lee, who is hitting .251 with 16 home runs, would become the Braves' primary first baseman, and would provide a middle-of-the-order bat to a team that recently lost Chipper Jones to a season-ending injury. Troy Glaus, the Braves slumping first baseman, would likely be placed on the disabled list until rosters expand on Sept. 1, and then would become a right-handed bat off the bench.

Lee makes $13 million this season, in the final year of a five-year contract. The money is significant, both to the Cubs (who will get payroll relief in addition to adding some minor-league players) and to the Braves (who decided that taking on a big contract now is worth it, because of the chance that's in front of them and the major need for another bat).

Signing Glaus last winter proved to be a very good move by the Braves, but he has provided little production recently, hitting just two home runs with 15 RBI in his last 46 games.

The Braves lead the Phillies by 2 1/2 games in the National League East, but they realize that the Phillies are finally getting healthy, with Chase Utley returning on Tuesday night and Ryan Howard soon to follow.

The Braves, who value makeup as much as any team (see the Yunel Escobar trade with the Blue Jays), see Lee as a player who fits in perfectly, both in their lineup and in their clubhouse.

Category: MLB
Posted on: August 13, 2010 6:09 pm
Edited on: August 13, 2010 6:14 pm

Utley, Howard could return early next week

NEW YORK -- The Phillies may finally be getting healthy.

Chase Utley and Ryan Howard could both be back next week, which would allow the Phillies to field their full opening day lineup for the first time since May 21. While the Phillies haven't set a date for the return of either of their stars, there seems to be at least an outside chance that both could return during a home series with the Giants that starts Tuesday night.

Utley left Friday for Florida, where he'll continue to work his way back from a torn ligament in his right thumb. Utley got a good report from the doctor this week, and before leaving he told some teammates that he intends to return to the lineup Tuesday. The Phillies originally projected that it would take eight weeks for Utley to return. As of Monday, he will have been out seven weeks.

Howard, out with a sprained ankle, hasn't played since Aug. 1. He has remained with the team, and took batting practice and ground balls before the Phillies' game with the Mets Friday night. Howard is eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday, and while it's not certain he'll be back that day, he shouldn't need much longer than that.

With Utley and Howard coming back, the Phillies could be healthier down the stretch than the Braves, who lost Chipper Jones to a season-ending knee injury.

"It's a loss," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, when asked about Jones. "But I picked [Braves utility man Omar] Infante for the All-Star Game, didn't I? We'll see how smart I am."

Posted on: August 8, 2010 6:11 pm

3 to watch: The Minor phenom edition

This spring, when all the talk in Braves camp was about Jason Heyward, Bobby Cox was already talking about Mike Minor.

"He could come fast," Cox said, knowing the Minor had only pitched in low Class A.

But Bobby, you're retiring this year. You won't see him.

"I'll come and watch him," Cox said, with a big smile.

Minor has come faster than even Cox expected, so fast that when he makes his big-league debut on Monday night, Cox will indeed come and watch him -- as his first big-league manager.

The Braves need Minor now, because Kris Medlen is on the disabled list, and possibly on the way to Tommy John elbow surgery. The Braves called on Minor, because the 22-year-old left-hander was 4-1 with a 1.89 in six starts in Triple-A, after starting the season in Double-A.

And in a week that also includes the returns of Stephen Strasburg and Carlos Zambrano, first-place showdowns in the National League Central and American League Central and Cliff Lee against the Yankees, Minor heads off this edition of 3 to watch:

1. Minor was the Braves' first-round draft pick in 2009, out of Vanderbilt, where he was a teammate of Tampa Bay's David Price. He was picked six spots behind Strasburg, and one spot ahead of Mike Leake, who starts Monday night for the Reds against the Cardinals. Meanwhile, Minor will be making his debut, in Braves at Astros, Monday night (8:05 ET) at Minute Maid Park . One more Minor fact: He'll be the first left-hander to start a game for the Braves this year.

2. It's tempting to leave a Strasburg start out of 3 to watch for the first time ever, with so many other good games this week. But let's be honest. Strasburg hasn't started a game since he felt tightness warming up for a scheduled July 27 start against the Braves. All eyes will be on him when he takes the mound (assuming he does) for Marlins at Nationals, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park . The time to leave him out of 3 to watch could be coming soon, but it's not here yet.

3. Seeing Lee pitch against the Yankees, which he'll do in Yankees at Rangers, Wednesday night (8:05 ET) at Rangers Ballpark , will have us looking back and looking ahead. Back at Lee's two wins over the Yankees during last year's World Series, and at the Yankees' attempted trade for Lee on July 9. Ahead at the possibility that Lee stands in the Yankees' way this October, and to a potential bidding war over Lee between the Yankees and Rangers (and no doubt others) this winter.
Posted on: July 31, 2010 4:08 pm
Edited on: July 31, 2010 4:22 pm

Braves get Ankiel, Farnsworth

The Braves have acquired outfielder Rick Ankiel and reliever Kyle Farnsworth from the Royals, CBSSports.com has learned.

The Royals will get reliever Jesse Chavez, outfielder Gregor Blanco and minor-league left-hander Tim Collins. The key to the deal for Kansas City was Collins, who the Braves just got from the Blue Jays in the Yunel Escobar-Alex Gonzalez trade.

Ankiel provides the Braves with a much-needed bat, an improvement in center field since Nate McLouth was sent to the minor leagues. Farnsworth returns to the Braves, where he pitched very well after being acquired at the July 31 deadline in 2005. Farnsworth, who grew up in Georgia, always liked pitching for the Braves.

Collins is only 5-foot-7, but in 41 games this year in Double-A, he has 87 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 51 innings.

Posted on: July 25, 2010 10:39 pm

3 to watch: The Draw of power edition

Scott Boras says people are drawn to power, as in power pitching or power hitting. He says it's why everyone seems to want to see power pitcher Stephen Strasburg (a client of his), and he argues that it will also be true with top draft pick and power hitter Bryce Harper (another client).

Fair enough, but if people really are drawn to power, they should be drawn to the Alex Rodriguez (also a client) push for 600 home runs.

So far, the feeling is that they haven't been, at least not nationally and only to a small extent locally. But it was hard to tell last week, because the Yankees were playing at home and they always draw near-capacity crowds, chase or no chase.

There were some signs that fans in New York cared, based on the noise and flashbulbs that accompanied each A-Rod at-bat after he reached 599 on Thursday night, and by the disappointment when an A-Rod at-bat after that ended without a home run.

But no newspapers from outside the area staffed the try for 600. No national television crews showed up.

So here's the question: With A-Rod taking the chase to Cleveland, will Indians fans show in anything like the numbers they did to see Strasburg pitch at Progressive Field last month?

The Strasburg game, on a Sunday afternoon, drew 32,876, which is still the only Indians crowd of more than 26,000 since opening day. The Indians are last in baseball in attendance (yes, behind even the Marlins).

Strasburg's first nine starts have averaged 36,351, and more of the games have been on some form of national television.

On to 3 to watch:

1. So what are the chances that A-Rod gets to 600 in Yankees at Indians, Monday night (7:05 EDT) at Progressive Field ? Well, he's a .375 career hitter against Tribe starter Jake Westbrook, but that includes just one home run in 24 at-bats. And what are the chances that the A-Rod chase for 600 goes on beyond this three-game series in Cleveland? Well, A-Rod went homerless in 15 at-bats in a four-game series in Cleveland last year, and he went homerless in 13 at-bats in a four-game series in Cleveland the year before. In all, he's homerless in his last 32 at-bats at Progressive Field. Either that means he's due, or it means the chase will head for Tampa Bay this weekend. At least we know that A-Rod will play this week, or at least that he plans to. After he was hit on the hand by a pitch Sunday, Rodriguez said there was "no question" he would be in the lineup Monday.

2. When the Angels traded for Dan Haren on Sunday, manager Mike Scioscia told reporters that there's a chance Haren's first Angel start will come right away, in Red Sox at Angels, Monday night (10:05 EDT) at Angel Stadium . If Haren starts instead on Tuesday, he would face ex-Angel John Lackey in Lackey's first Anaheim start as a visitor. Either way, Haren's second Angels start could be just as interesting, because there's a chance that it would be next Sunday night, against Rangers acquisition Cliff Lee.

3. Strasburg's first nine starts have been against nine different opponents. That streak ends with Strasburg's next start, in Braves at Nationals, Tuesday night (7:05 EDT) at Nationals Park . But this will be Strasburg's first meeting with fellow hyped rookie Jason Heyward, because Heyward went on the disabled list on June 28, the same night Strasburg lost 5-0 to the Braves in Atlanta. Remember, that was the game when Ian Desmond couldn't turn a double play that might have allowed Strasburg to hold the Braves scoreless through seven innings.

Posted on: July 14, 2010 1:05 pm

Not an Atlanta Braves type of player

The Braves were sure Yunel Escobar was their shortstop for many years to come. They were so sure of it that even this spring, they were justifying the decision to include Elvis Andrus in the 2007 Mark Teixeira trade by saying that they never thought Andrus would unseat Escobar.

Now, four months later, they've traded Escobar away, for a significantly older, but steady, journeyman.


Hang on, because in another way, this Escobar-Alex Gonzalez trade makes all the sense in the world. And not just because Gonzalez is leading Escobar in 2010 home runs, 17-0.

Sure, that's part of it, and that's what Braves general manager Frank Wren chose to emphasize in his statement announcing the trade.

"We've been looking at ways to strengthen our club offensively, and Alex Gonzalez is a proven veteran player who gives us added power," Wren said.

True enough, and the Red Sox will tell you how much last year's midseason trade for Gonzalez stabilized their infield and was a huge key in carrying them to the playoffs.

But let's be serious. To trade 27-year-old Yunel Escobar for 33-year-old Alex Gonzalez is to acknowledge that Escobar wasn't becoming the player the Braves thought he was.

More than that, it's to acknowledge that Escobar just didn't fit.

As one veteran Braves scout likes to say about some players he sees, "Not an Atlanta Braves type of player."

You know what, Yunel Escobar was not an Atlanta Braves type of player. More and more, that was showing.

There was the time earlier this season in New York, when Escobar inexplicably failed to tag up at third base on a fly ball, in effect costing the Braves a game. There was the time last week in New York, when he lazily tossed a ball to first base, throwing into the runner and nearly getting first baseman Troy Glaus first.

There were the times he was more concerned about his own errors than with whether the team was winning or losing.

He may still develop into the player the Braves thought they had. The talent is there. The Blue Jays, still trying to build for some sort of future, can afford to take that chance.

But in Atlanta, Escobar was developing more and more into a guy who was "not an Atlanta Braves type of player."

Alex Gonzalez isn't the future in Atlanta, but by all accounts he is "an Atlanta Braves type of player."

He fits in, and unlike Escobar you can be sure that he won't be giving manager Bobby Cox fits in Cox's final months in the Braves dugout.

It's strange to say, but a Braves team with Gonzalez at shortstop has a better chance of sending Cox out as a winner than a Braves team with Escobar did.

And what about next year, when Cox is gone?

Well, the Braves will have a new manager, but they don't plan to have a new philosophy. They still plan to build around "Atlanta Braves type of players."

They won't be building around Yunel Escobar.
Posted on: July 4, 2010 4:54 pm
Edited on: July 4, 2010 5:15 pm

3 to watch: The Scene of the crime edition

The last time the Giants were in Milwaukee, Prince Fielder hit a walkoff home run, his teammates fell down like bowling pins, and the Giants got so upset they still haven't forgotten it.

The last time the Yankees were in Oakland, Alex Rodriguez ran across Dallas Braden's mound, Braden got upset, and a week later Braden's grandmother told A-Rod to "stick it."

So now it's July, and the Giants are back in Milwaukee, and the Yankees are back in Oakland.

Which no doubt means that Prince and A-Rod will be back in the news this week. But for what?

With Prince, the questions will be whether the Brewers should trade him right now, and how interested the Giants should be in trying to trade for him (or, perhaps, for Brewers outfielder Corey Hart).

The teams have talked in the past, but the Giants' reluctance to part with any of their big-time pitchers was always a big sticking point. Of course, that's the same sticking point that has kept the Giants from acquiring any significant hitter these last few years, which in turn has kept them from first place in the National League West.

In any case, the Giants could sure use Fielder, so much so that they'd have no problem overlooking the celebration they hated so much last September. When Andy Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News asked Barry Zito about Fielder , Zito answered, "There's a ton of guys in the league we hate to play against, but we'd love to play with."

Remember, Zito is the guy who threw at Fielder this spring in Arizona, a payback for the bowling-pin display last September.

There's no chance of A-Rod getting traded to the A's -- his $32 million salary would cover more than half the Oakland payroll. And there's no chance he'll run across Braden's mound -- the A's lefty is on the disabled list.

So if we're talking A-Rod this week, we're more likely talking the run to 600 home runs. Rodriguez is at 595 right now, which means it's unlikely but not impossible that he'll get to 600 in Oakland.

For the record, Rodriguez has hit 19 career home runs in 86 games at the Coliseum. He hasn't hit more than one home run in a series in Oakland since 2004, and hasn't ever hit more than three in any series at the Coliseum.

On to 3 to watch:

1. If the Phillies are going to survive all their injuries, you'd think they would need to win every game that Roy Halladay starts. Instead, they've struggled to score runs for Halladay, and thus they're 3-7 in his last 10 starts. They get another chance, in Braves at Phillies, Monday night (7:05 EDT) at Citizens Bank Park .

2. No one remembers it now, but the A-Rod/Braden game back in April was a Yankee loss, and a CC Sabathia loss. And while Braden won't pitch in this week's series, Sabathia will, in Yankees at A's, Tuesday night (10:05 EDT) at the Coliseum . He pitched well in that April start, allowing just four hits in an eight-inning complete game (a 4-2 A's win), but for his career, Sabathia is 2-5 with a 5.95 ERA in 10 starts in what is basically his hometown ballpark.

3. Zito has just one win in his last nine starts (and a 5.30 ERA in that span), so he'll have more on his mind than just Fielder, in Giants at Brewers, Thursday afternoon (2:10 EDT) at Miller Park . For the record, Fielder is just 2 for 12 against Zito in his career, although one of the two hits was a home run.

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