Tag:Justin Masterson
Posted on: August 11, 2011 11:46 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Thome in Cleveland edition

CLEVELAND -- Jim Thome was playing third base for the Indians the day he hit his first big-league home run.

On the same day Lonnie Chisenhall turned three years old.

Thome left the Indians to sign with the Phillies after the 2002 season.

On the same day the Indians traded for Travis Hafner.

Thome comes back to Cleveland this weekend with 598 home runs, and wouldn't it be great if he gets to 600 during this three-game series at Progressive Field?

He hit his first 334 home runs as an Indian, and his 186 home runs at Progressive Field are still far more than he has hit at any other ballpark (U.S. Cellular is second on his list, with 98).

And that's even though Thome played his first 70 home games at old Cleveland Stadium.

There's no one left on the Indians roster who was a Thome teammate in Cleveland. Chisenhall, now 22, is the Indians third baseman now.

But you know that Cleveland still means more to Thome than anywhere else he has played.

He's hit well on previous returns, going 35-for-114 (.307) in 34 games, with 10 home runs and 32 RBI. He's had three multi-homer games in Cleveland as a visitor.

He needs two in the next three games to get to 600 here, perhaps not likely but certainly not impossible.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Thome has never homered in 16 at-bats against Justin Masterson, the Cleveland starter in Twins at Indians, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field. The Indians rearranged their rotation after Masterson went just two innings before a long rain delay knocked him out of his Tuesday night start against the Tigers. Why? That's simple. Masterson has been their best starter this year. "Masterson has been a No. 1 for us," manager Manny Acta said.

2. You never know what C.J. Wilson might say, but did you really expect him to go into his start at Oakland by saying, "I hate pitching there" and that "The players on [the A's] team hate me"? Maybe he'll like the Coliseum more and the A's players will hate him more if he wins in Rangers at A's, Friday night (10:07 ET) at the Coliseum.

3. The Brewers went into the season knowing they had little rotation depth in the minor leagues, but they survived Zack Greinke's injury because Marco Estrada was decent in his place, pitching well enough for the Brewers to win two of his four starts. Estrada last started on May 4, and the Brewers have used just their regular five starters since then. But Chris Narveson's freak injury -- he sliced open his thumb while trying to fix his glove -- has forced Estrada back into the rotation for Pirates at Brewers, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Miller Park. This is one of the Pirates games that Fox picked up for its Saturday game of the week, before the Pirates went into their skid.


Posted on: July 13, 2011 2:25 pm
Edited on: July 13, 2011 2:42 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Bud Selig edition

No matter what you think of Bud Selig as a commissioner, there's never been any doubt about Bud Selig as a fan.

He loves baseball. He loves watching baseball.

He switches from game to game on television every night when he's home. And when Selig met with the Baseball Writers Association of America this week, he said that his favorite games this summer have involved the Pirates and the Indians.

"I go first to the Pittsburgh game, and then Cleveland," Selig said. "I'm enjoying those two situations very much."

It's easy to see why. Not only are the Pirates and Indians great stories, but Selig sees them both as great examples of how his financial (revenue-sharing) plan is working.

He's right. They're great stories.

As to whether they're proof that the system works, that's a lot more complicated. Selig would also argue that the Rays have proved the system works, because they've finished first two of the last three years in baseball's toughest (and most expensive) division.

Rays executives would dispute that. They say there's no way they can compete long-term against the financial resources of the Yankees and Red Sox, and they beg regularly for a realignment plan that would get them out of the American League East (not going to happen).

Indians people wonder whether they can sustain long-term success. Even with Cleveland's success on the field this year (the Indians spent much of the first half in first place), attendance at Progressive Field has been mostly disappointing.

The Indians could win again, but they could also eventually find themselves back where they were in 2008-09, where they felt forced to trade Cy Young winners in back-to-back years, because they couldn't afford to keep them.

The Rays, despite another competitive team, had the second lowest average attendance in baseball (19,115, ahead of only the Marlins) in the first half. The Indians, at 21,106, ranked 26th among the 30 teams. The Pirates, at 23,577, were 21st.

Does the system really work?

Ask again in a few years.

On to 3 to watch:

1. The Indians fell out of first place on Sunday, and they'll begin the second half with two starters (Fausto Carmona and Mitch Talbot on the disabled list). But they also begin the second half with four games against a Baltimore team that might have been the worst in baseball at the end of the first half. And they start with the outstanding Justin Masterson on the mound, in Indians at Orioles, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Camden Yards. Jeremy Guthrie, who will no doubt be the subject of trade talks later this month, starts for the Orioles.

2. Selig is a traditionalist in many ways, but he's also a businessman. So when someone asked Tuesday whether he sees a chance of more scheduled doubleheaders, he quickly said no. He's right, there's no way most teams would give up a home date (and a potential big gate), for doubleheaders that most fans wouldn't attend, anyway. The A's are different, because they have trouble selling tickets. So they did schedule a doubleheader, in Angels at A's, Saturday (4:05 ET) at the Coliseum. American League All-Star starter Jered Weaver is scheduled to start one of the games for the Angels.

3. Did the Pirates play the Astros every day during the first half, and is that why they had a decent record? It's not true. The Astros and Pirates played only nine times in the first half (with the Pirates winning seven), which means they play nine times in the second half, too. Three of those come this weekend, including Pirates at Astros, Sunday (2:05 ET) at Minute Maid Park, with All-Star Kevin Correia on the mound.


Posted on: July 3, 2011 9:13 pm
Edited on: July 4, 2011 1:25 am
 

3 to Watch: The Jeter returns edition

The last time Derek Jeter came off the disabled list, he got six hits in his first three games.

The time before that, he had eight hits in his first three games. The time before that, he had six hits in his first two games.

So with Jeter set to come off the disabled list as the Yankees begin a three-game series in Cleveland, does that mean Derek Jeter is going to get his 3,000th hit in George Steinbrenner's hometown?

No more than fact that Jeter has six hits in only one of the 16 three-game series he has played in this year means that he won't.

All we really know is that Jeter (who returns from the DL with 2,994 career hits) has a history of fast starts when coming off the disabled list. And also that Jeter is not the same hitter he was in 2003, the last time he went on the DL.

For what it's worth, we know that Jeter is a career .343 hitter against the Indians, and that he's a career .370 hitter at the ballpark that was known as Jacobs Field when he first played there, and now goes by the name Progressive Field.

We know that two members of the 3,000-hit club -- Tris Speaker and Nap Lajoie -- reached the milestone in Cleveland, and that one member of the club -- Robin Yount -- did it against the Indians.

And we know that the Yankees insist that they're not worried about giving Jeter a chance to get to 3,000 this weekend at Yankee Stadium.

"I know there are conspiracy theories, but we need to win games," general manager Brian Cashman told reporters Saturday in Trenton, N.J. "We dopn't have time to play around with milestone stuff and all that extra stuff. I can honestly tell you, I could care less."

If the Yankees did care, they wouldn't be the first. As I pointed out last month, in 1978 Reds manager Sparky Anderson said he would pull Pete Rose from a game, rather than take a chance that he would get 3,000 in New York.

"I will not allow Pete Rose to do it anywhere but Cincinnati," Anderson said then. "I would not cheat those people. It's a must that he do it at home."

The Yankees have three games in Cleveland, followed by four games at home against the Rays, followed by a trip to Toronto and Tampa Bay after the All-Star break.

When will 3,000 come?

We can only tell you that history says it might not take long.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Before Jeter's calf injury, and before his return was scheduled for Monday, we thought the game of the day would be in St. Louis. It still might be, because Reds at Cardinals, Monday night (6:15 ET) at Busch Stadium, brings the renewal of what has become one of the most heated rivalries in the game. It's quite a week in the National League Central, where the top four teams finished play Sunday separated by just two games. The Cardinals and Brewers begin the week tied for first, and the Reds (two games back) play three games this week in St. Louis followed by four in Milwaukee.

2. Our C. Trent Rosecrans says Roy Halladay should be the National League starter in the All-Star Game. I'm not going to disagree, but I will say that Jair Jurrjens would be a good option, too. Halladay doesn't pitch again until Friday, so Jurrjens (who leads the majors with a 1.89 ERA) has a chance to become the NL's first 12-game winner when he starts in Rockies at Braves, Wednesday night (7:10 ET) at Turner Field.

3. Jeter's return from the DL will get more attention, but Phil Hughes' return, in Yankees at Indians, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field, may be more important to the Yankees' chances this season. The reports from Hughes' minor-league rehab starts have been good, but you can bet everyone will be checking the radar gun readings and the box score line from his first big-league start since April 14. Oh, and maybe you should watch Jeter, too. He's 5-for-12 in his career against Justin Masterson, who will start for the Indians.




Posted on: June 12, 2011 7:33 pm
Edited on: June 12, 2011 7:34 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Central showdown(s) edition

When the Indians stumbled, they let other teams back into the American League Central race.

But how many teams?

The Tigers have spent the last two days in a virtual tie with the Indians, so obviously they're in it.

The White Sox have the best record in the division over the last 37 days (22-13), and they're now just 3 1/2 games out of first place. So no matter what anyone said last month, they're obviously in it, too.

But what about the Twins? They're still nine games out, which only looks good because 11 days ago they were 16 1/2 games out. They're still 13 games under .500, which only looks good because 11 days ago they were 20 games under.

The players  who are out of the Twins lineup still look better than the players who are in the lineup, but that changes when Joe Mauer comes back (maybe as soon as Thursday). Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are all on the way back, too.

I never thought the White Sox were out of it, even when they were 10 games out in early May. I did think the Twins were out of it . . . but now I'm starting to wonder.

I thought the big series this week would be Indians at Tigers, but now I'm starting to think White Sox at Twins could end up mattering just as much.

Either way, this should be a fascinating week in the Central.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. If there's one thing that separates the Tigers from the other contenders, it's that no one else in the Central has an ace as dependable as Justin Verlander. Verlander has been at least a 17-game winner in four of his first five big-league seasons, and he's headed there again. The Tigers have won six of his last seven starts, beginning with his May 7 no-hitter and heading into his start in Indians at Tigers, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Comerica Park. Verlander is 5-0 with a 2.14 ERA in that span. Compare that with Justin Masterson, Cleveland's Tuesday starter, who hasn't won since April (despite a 3.79 ERA in his last eight starts).

2. The Yankees spent the first part of the weekend talking about who would fill in for Joba Chamberlain in the seventh inning. They spent the last part of the weekend talking about who would fill in for Bartolo Colon in the rotation. Chamberlain (Tommy John surgery) will be out longer than Colon (left hamstring strain), but finding someone who can do what Colon has done figures to be tougher than finding someone who can do what Chamberlain has done. The Yankees have yet to name a starter for Rangers at Yankees, Thursday afternoon (1:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium, which is the next time Colon's spot in the rotation comes up. It's also the day Chamberlain has his surgery, and the day C.J. Wilson faces the Yankees for the first time since he lost Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Oh, and it's Derek Jeter's last chance to get his 3,000th hit at home, barring a long slump on the upcoming trip to play the Cubs and Reds. For what it's worth, Jeter is 5-for-14 (.357) against Wilson in the regular season, but went 1-for-7 against him in last year's ALCS.

3. Without Mauer, Twins catchers have had the worst OPS in baseball (.495, with an incredible .184 batting average). Without Mauer, the middle of the order has been a big problem for the Twins, along with the middle of the infield and the middle of the bullpen. No matter how well the Twins have played recently -- three wins in four games over the weekend against the Rangers, nine wins in their last 11 games overall -- there's no chance the Twins get back in the AL Central race without Mauer, who may be back for White Sox at Twins, Thursday afternoon (1:10 ET) at Target Field.



Posted on: May 22, 2011 9:07 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Halladay (and Wood) edition

When Roy Halladay threw nine shutout innings against the Reds last July, he didn't get a win -- because of Travis Wood.

When Halladay threw his playoff no-hitter against the Reds last October, the guy who came closest to getting a hit was Travis Wood.

So how perfect is it that when Halladay goes against the Reds on Wednesday night, for the first time since that playoff no-hitter, his mound opponent that night will be . . . Travis Wood?

It's a big week at Citizens Bank Park, if only because Chase Utley will join the Phillies lineup for the first time on Monday night. But the highlight of the week's schedule comes two nights later, with Roy Halladay against Travis Wood.

When they met in that game last July 10, Wood took a perfect game into the ninth inning, when Carlos Ruiz broke it up with a leadoff double. Halladay allowed five hits that night, in the first game since 2002 where both starting pitchers carried a shutout through nine innings (it happened again earlier this month, with Seattle's Jason Vargas and Baltimore's Zach Britton).

It was a little shocking to see a pitcher come that close to a perfect game against the Phillies.

And it was truly shocking to see a pitcher throw a no-hitter in the playoffs, against a Reds team that had scored the most runs in the National League last year.

Or maybe it wasn't, given how good Halladay looked that night.

"It's not fun being up there trying to hit nothing," Joey Votto said.

And, yes, Wood was the guy who came closest to a hit. Right fielder Jayson Werth had to slide to catch Wood's sinking line drive in the third inning.

Wood didn't start that game for the Reds. He took over for Edinson Volquez in the second inning. And just as he did in that game in July, he held the Phillies without a run and gave up just one hit (in 3 1/3 innings).

Wednesday, he and the Reds get another chance.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Does it surprise you that a year after hitting 54 home runs, Jose Bautista is actually ahead of his 2010 pace? Does it surprise you that Curtis Granderson is second in the major leagues in home runs, behind only Bautista? OK, well does it surprise you that Granderson has hit more home runs on the road than at home, at the famous Yankee Stadium bandbox? Or that Bautista has hit more home runs at Target Field than at Yankee Stadium, in a lot fewer games? Maybe Granderson and Bautista can do something about that this week, starting with Blue Jays at Yankees, Monday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium. And, speaking of surprises, Bartolo Colon is the Yankees starter.

2. When the Red Sox got swept in Cleveland the first week of the season, we were shocked that the Sox could be off to such a bad start. And we totally ignored the possibility that the Indians were good. Maybe they're not, but seven weeks later, the Indians still have a better record than the Red Sox -- and everyone else in the game. And now here we are again, with Red Sox at Indians, Monday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field. We'll notice the Indians this time, especially if Justin Masterson beats the Red Sox again. He's 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA against them since going to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez trade.

3. On that night that Wood carried a perfect game into the ninth inning, the Reds lost to the Phillies, 1-0 in 11 innings. No surprise. The Reds have lost their last eight games in Philadelphia, and 13 of their last 15, heading into the series that includes Reds at Phillies, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Halladay didn't start all of those games -- but he will start this one.


Posted on: May 2, 2011 3:57 pm
Edited on: May 2, 2011 6:33 pm
 

Is it time to believe in the Indians?

A week ago, I'll admit, I was still dismissing the Indians' hot start.

I'm still not ready to believe, but I'm getting there -- and not just because their 19-8 record is the best in the majors.

Plenty of teams play well for the first 30 games of the season, only to fade. In fact, of the last 12 teams to start a season 19-8 or better, only seven made it to the playoffs. The 2006 Reds started 19-8, and didn't even manage to finish .500.

One scout who follows the American League Central said Monday, "The best thing the White Sox and Tigers have going for them is that they're chasing the Indians and Royals."

Still, there are reasons to believe, according to scouts who have followed the Indians:

1. Grady Sizemore looks like himself again. When I did the Indians camp report in February, I wrote that the most interesting question for the Indians was "whether the Grady Sizemore of 2007-08 will return."

"He's back," one scout said. "He's moving awfully well."

2. Michael Brantley looks like Grady Sizemore, too.

"He's another Sizemore," the scout said. "He takes good at-bats, he can throw, and he can run."

3. Justin Masterson is better than he was, Josh Tomlin is better than you think, and Alex White can be a difference-maker.

Masterson started 0-5 last year. He's 5-0 this year. Scouts say he could be even better if he would consistently use his sinker against left-handed hitters, who are still hitting .295 against him.

Tomlin is 4-0, and on the way to living up to one scout's spring training prediction that he would win more games than Fausto Carmona or Carlos Carrasco.

As for White, the 2009 No. 1 draft pick who debuted Saturday against the Tigers, one scout called him "the real deal." Told that the Indians actually think 2010 first-rounder Drew Pomeranz will be better than White, the scout said, "Well, then they'll have two top-of-the-rotation guys."

White only joined the rotation because both Mitch Talbot and Carrasco are hurt, but this scout predicted that there's no way the Indians can send him back to the minor leagues now.

"They'll just have to pay him," he said. "They ought to sign him to a long-term deal right now."

4. Tim Belcher's message is getting through.

Belcher worked in the Cleveland front office after retiring as a pitcher, then became the Indians' pitching coach last year. One scout gives him credit for the Indians' strong start, saying, "Belcher has them pitching to a game plan. The stuff isn't that electric, but they make it work."

5. The Orlando Cabrera effect. Cabrera moves from team to team, but as one scout said Monday, winning follows him. Since July 2004, when the Expos sent him to the Red Sox as part of the Nomar Garciaparra deal, Cabrera has changed teams seven times, but has made the playoffs every year but one.

"He's a menace," one scout said. "He's not great at second base, but he wins."

And so, for now, do the Indians.



Posted on: April 17, 2011 9:43 pm
 

3 to watch: The first-place battle edition

The Giants are in Colorado this week, for the first time since Tim Lincecum complained about the "juiced balls" at Coors Field . . . in a game where he allowed just two hits in eight innings.

That'd be a good place to start 3 to watch.

The Angels are in Texas this week, for the first time since the Rangers ended their run of three straight American League West titles.

That'd be a good place to start 3 to watch.

Forget it. So far as I can tell, only one player was so excited about this week's schedule that he tweeted Sunday that he was "on to KC for a 1st place battle."

It was Indians closer Chris Perez. Or @ChrisPerez54 , as he's known on Twitter.

And he's right. The first-place Indians are in Kansas City this week, to meet the second-place Royals.

Now that's the place to start 3 to watch. So far as I can tell, there's never been a true first-place battle between the Indians and Royals.

The only time they finished first and second in the same division, in 1995, the Indians won the AL Central by 30 games and the second-place Royals were actually under .500.

It's been 11 years since both the Indians and Royals both had winning records on the morning of April 18. Charlie Manuel was the Indians manager the last time it happened.

And, of course, it wasn't supposed to happen this year.

The Royals were pointing towards 2012 or 2013, when their best-in-baseball prospects arrive. The Indians were pointing towards sometime in the future, too.

To be honest, the Royals and Indians should have been pointing towards the future. They still should be, but you can't blame either team for celebrating some early success.

If nothing else, they've proven that they won't be pushovers for the White Sox, Tigers and Twins, the teams expected to battle for the AL Central title. The Royals have already impressed opponents with their gritty play and with their bullpen (especially Tim Collins and Jeremy Jeffress). The Indians have impressed opponents with their strong starting rotation.

There will be plenty of time to talk about the Rockies and Giants, and the Rangers and Angels, and even the Yankees and Blue Jays, the fourth pair of first- and second-place teams that will meet this week.

This week of first-place battles belongs to the Indians and Royals.

On to 3 to watch:

1. The Rockies, in their entire 18-year history, have never won a division title. They've been to the playoffs three times, but all as wild cards (including in 2007, when they went to the World Series). If they're going to be as good as they think they can be ("You want to become that Philadelphia Phillies-type team," Troy Tulowitzki said last week), then they'd better start winning titles. That means beating San Francisco, and this week, including Giants at Rockies, Tuesday night (8:40 ET) at Coors Field would be a good place to start. The Giants have their top three starting pitchers going in the series. The Rockies get their ace, Ubaldo Jimenez, back on Tuesday, after he missed two weeks because of a cut on his thumb.

2. The Angels are missing Kendrys Morales. The Rangers are missing Josh Hamilton. But as of Sunday, Matt Harrison was third in the American League in ERA, and Jered Weaver was fourth. And it'll be Harrison facing Weaver, in Angels at Rangers, Wednesday night (8:05 ET) at Rangers Ballpark .

3. OK, so Harrison and Weaver are third and fourth in the AL in ERA. You know who's fourth? One hint: He plays for Cleveland. It's Justin Masterson, who was acquired from Boston in the Victor Martinez trade and until this year was best known for not being able to pitch to left-handed hitters. His left-right splits aren't great this year, either (righties hit .103, lefties .273), but Masterson has already beaten the White Sox, Mariners and Orioles. His next start comes in Indians at Royals, Wednesday night (8:10 ET) at Kauffman Stadium.

 
 
 
 
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