Posted on: December 6, 2011 3:01 am
Edited on: December 6, 2011 3:23 am
DALLAS -- More baseball talk from the first full day at the winter meetings:
-- The Braves' duo of Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado continue to be as sought after as any players on the slow-developing trade market. Sources say that 8-10 teams have shown real interest in Jurrjens, while "half the teams in baseball" have talked to the Braves about Prado, most with the idea of playing him at second base. The Braves continue to say that they don't need to move either player, and will only do so if the return helps make them more competitive in 2012 (as opposed to dealing for long-term prospects). The Braves have assured teams that Jurrjens is fully healthy, and that his velocity returned to the mid 90s when he resumed throwing in instructional league.
-- Royals executive J.J. Picollo became the latest to interview with the Astros for their vacant general manager position. The Astros' interest in Picollo and in the Rockies' Bill Geivett would seem to indicate that they want to hire someone with a strong background in scouting and player development. Picollo is Kansas City's assistant GM for scouting and player development, and he previously ran the Braves' minor-league system.
-- The Angels spent Monday night talking to Bob Garber, who represents free-agent pitcher C.J. Wilson. The Angels' interest in Wilson is serious, and has been since last month's general managers meetings in Milwaukee.
-- The Dodgers were considered to have a good day Monday, signing infielder Jerry Hairston and starter Aaron Harang to two-year deals. Rival executives suggest that Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti needs to do whatever he can to try to give his chance a team to play well early in 2012, in hopes of convincing whoever the new owner is that he should keep his job.
-- The A's continue to explore trading closer Andrew Bailey, and are expected to talk to the Red Sox on Tuesday. The Red Sox have not yet been aggressive in pursuit of Bailey.
-- The Tigers are not believed to have shown any significant interest in any of the big names on the free-agent market, and seem content to make smaller improvements to a team that won 95 games in 2011. If the Tigers make a big-money signing this winter, it seems a lot more likely to be Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes than Mark Buehrle, Aramis Ramirez, Coco Crisp or other big names that have been speculated about. It's still not clear how soon Cespedes will be declared a free agent, because of delays in paperwork needed to establish residency in the Dominican Republic. One possibility is that Cespedes could try to establish residency in Mexico, instead.
-- While the White Sox are open to listening to trade proposals for any of John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Carlos Quentin and Gordon Beckham, some club officials insist that they are not "rebuilding," even though general manager Ken Williams used that exact word last month. The Sox insist that they while they are trying to get younger, they would only trade their valuable chips if they get players who are ready to contribute at the big-league level immediately.
-- The Pirates continue to show no interest in trading center fielder Andrew McCutchen, even though early talks on a possible long-term contract showed that the two sides were "not even in the same ballpark," according to sources. McCutchen isn't eligible for free agency for another four years, so the Pirates aren't yet under time pressure to sign him or trade him.
-- The Giants have talked to the representatives for Tim Lincecum, but there doesn't appear to be much progress towards getting Lincecum signed to a long-term contract. Lincecum has two years to go before free agency.
-- A day after some Brewers people expressed a slight hint of optimism at their chances of retaining free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder, others insisted the chances remain very bleak. The Brewers do have real interest in Aramis Ramirez, and have been in contact with every free-agent shortstop.
-- The Rays are open to trading Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis in their quest to improve their offense, but have told teams that they would only listen to overwhelming offers for James Shields. The Rays would also like to trade Reid Brignac, would still like to upgrade their catching, and are once again willing to talk about dealing B.J. Upton.
Tags: A's, Aaron Harang, Andrew Bailey, Andrew McCutchen, Aramis Ramirez, Astros, B.J. Upton, Braves, Coco Crisp, Dodgers, J.J. Picollo, Jair Jurrjens, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, Jerry Hairston, Mark Buehrle, Martin Prado, Ned Colletti, Pirates, Rays, Red Sox, Reid Brignac, Royals, Tigers, Wade Davis, winter meetings, Yoenis Cespedes
Posted on: September 22, 2011 11:36 pm
NEW YORK -- The Phillies haven't won since they clinched the National League East.
The Tigers have lost three of five since they clinched the American League Central.
And Thursday, the Yankees played a Triple-A lineup, committed four errors and lost 15-8 to the Rays, the day after clinching the AL East.
What happens next will be more interesting.
What happens next is Yankees-Red Sox, giving the Yankees a chance to push their biggest rivals a few steps further towards what would be an embarrassing collapse.
Could the Yankees possibly sleepwalk through three more days, at the risk of giving the Red Sox life?
Johnny Damon says no.
As the Rays designated hitter, Damon is an interested party. But as an ex-Red Sox and ex-Yankee, he understands the dynamics of the rivalry, too. And he fully believes that whether the Yankees say it publicly or not, they want the Red Sox out of the playoffs.
"Yeah, because it's definitely not a good story if the Red Sox beat them in the playoffs," Damon said. "If the Rays beat them, it may not be acceptable, but it's more palatable.
"And they've matched up well against us. We haven't really done anything to show them otherwise."
The Yankees have been in an unusual spot all week, in a sense having control over who wins the AL wild card and who doesn't. For three games against the Rays, they could pretend that they were solely focused on winning the division themselves.
Now that they're in, they'll claim that they're solely focused on setting themselves up for the playoffs. Yes, catcher Russell Martin said Thursday, "I hate the Red Sox," but everywhere else in the Yankee clubhouse they were insisting they don't care who else gets in.
We'll see what lineups manager Joe Girardi runs out there the next three days, and then for three games at Tampa Bay. We'll see what intensity the Yankees play with.
Girardi is absolutely right that his main objective should be to get his team ready. He's right not to start ace CC Sabathia, since Sabathia wouldn't line up well for Game 1 if he starts again during the regular season.
"Our responsibility is to our club," Girardi said Thursday. "That's the bottom line. I have to make sure our guys are healthy, rested and ready to go [for the first playoff game] next Friday."
Hard to blame him for that.
The Phillies did the same thing on the final weekend of last season against the Braves, who were still fighting for a wild-card spot. On the final day of the season, in a game the Braves had to win, Cole Hamels started but pitched just two innings.
The Phils will likely take the same approach next week in Atlanta. The Rangers may do the same in Anaheim, if they clinch the AL West before their series against the Angels begins Monday.
The difference for the Yankees is that each of their final six games could influence the wild-card race.
The difference is that the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, with a chance to help knock them out.
On to 3 to Watch:
1. The Braves, as colleague Scott Miller pointed out, have been collapsing almost as badly as the Red Sox have. They got a break Thursday, when the Cardinals collapsed in the ninth inning against the Mets, but they know that the Cards have a seeming schedule advantage with their final six games against the Cubs and Astros. The Braves will figure they need to win, beginning with Braves at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park. The Nats just swept the Phillies, and have won nine of their last 11. And this is a Strasburg game.
2. Yes, it's true, the Red Sox were worried enough about their pitching that they contacted the Mets at one point to try to make a late trade for Chris Capuano. It's true, after starting Jon Lester Friday, the Sox are stuck with no better choices than Tim Wakefield and John Lackey the rest of the weekend. Lackey has a 10.70 ERA in September. Wakefield is at 4.95, heading into a likely meeting with equally bad A.J. Burnett in Red Sox at Yankees, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Yankee Stadium.
3. There are other games that matter more, with the Angels at home against the A's, the Cardinals at home against the Cubs, the Rangers trying to clinch at home against the Mariners and the Diamondbacks trying to clinch at home against the Giants. But Justin Verlander is going for his 25th win, so 3 to Watch has no choice but to close with Orioles at Tigers, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at Comerica Park. No pitcher has won 25 since Bob Welch won 27 for the 1990 A's, and Welch was the first since Steve Stone won 25 for the 1980 Orioles. The last Tiger to win 25: Denny McLain, when he won 31 in 1968. Verlander, who at this point has to be the American League MVP, is 20-2 with a 1.75 ERA over his last 22 starts, holding opponents to a .188 batting average and a .529 OPS. The last guy with an OPS that low and enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title was Alfredo Griffin, in 1990.
Posted on: September 16, 2011 1:15 pm
Edited on: September 16, 2011 2:38 pm
BOSTON -- Teams don't blow nine-game leads in September. It just doesn't happen.
Teams do blow three-game leads with 13 games to play. That does happen.
That has happened.
In fact, it's not hard to find teams that have led by four games, or even five games, with 13 games to play, and still missed the playoffs.
The 1951 Dodgers (four games) did it, although it took maybe the most famous home run of all time.
The 1964 Phillies (5 1/2 games) did it, although it took a collapse that tarnished Gene Mauch's legacy for the rest of his life.
The 1995 Angels, the 2009 Tigers and the 2007 Padres (all three games) did it, too. So did the 1934 Giants (3 1/2 games), the 1962 Dodgers (four games) , the 1965 Giants (3 1/2 games) and the 1938 Pirates (3 1/2 games).
The point isn't that the Red Sox are going to miss the playoffs. Most likely, they won't.
The point is that they've moved from "It can't happen because it's never happened," to "It could happen, but it would still be historic."
And yes, the same goes for the Rangers (up 3 1/2 games on the Angels in the American League West), and even the Braves (up 4 1/2 games on the Cardinals for the National League wild card).
Oh, and Mets fans, your 2007 team doesn't make the list. While they were up seven games on the Phillies with 17 games left, the lead was already down to 2 1/2 games by the time the Mets had played their 149th game (and had 13 remaining).
The 1978 Red Sox aren't on the list, either. They led the Yankees by seven games entering September, but led by 2 1/2 with 13 games left.
Posted on: September 14, 2011 3:42 pm
Interleague play in 2012 will give us plenty of Tigers-Pirates Marlins-Red Sox and Yankees-Braves.
But it won't bring the Braves to Kansas City.
The Royals have ex-Braves as general manager (Dayton Moore), manager (Ned Yost), and players (including Jeff Francoeur). The Braves have a club president (John Schuerholz) who first made his name as the Royals GM, and checks the schedule every year looking for a trip back to Kansas City.
In 15 years of interleague play, the Braves have never been there.
Make that 16, because they're not going there in 2012, either. But they will play home-and-home series with the Yankees.
Baseball announced its 2012 schedule Wednesday morning, and there will soon be complaints all around about bad road trips, or too many home games early, or not enough home games late.
But the biggest problems, as always, come from the interleague schedule.
It's not fair. It makes little sense. And it doesn't come close to serving one of its main, originally announced purposes, because it doesn't bring every team to every city.
No Braves in Kansas City, for the 16th straight year. No Padres in Toronto, for the 16th straight year. No Rangers in St. Louis, for the 16th straight year. No Twins in Atlanta, for the 16th straight year.
Through 2011, there were nine interleague matchups that had never happened. Not one of those nine is on the 2012 schedule.
But the Tigers and Pirates will play six times, as will the Marlins and Red Sox.
It's fine that interleague play gives us games between natural rivals, which remain popular. But for people outside the two-team markets, interleague play was sold as a way to see every team from the other league, at least once every six years.
Now it's 16 years and counting for nine matchups that still haven't happened.
And it's another year of teams in the same division playing unequal interleague schedules.
The Braves play 12 of their 18 interleague games against the best three teams in the American League East (Yankees, Red Sox, Rays). The rival Phillies don't play the Yankees at all, so they play just six of 15 games against the AL East Big 3.
Yes, that's right. The Braves and Phillies don't even play the same number of interleague games. With 14 teams in the AL and 16 in the NL -- no realignment yet -- the only way to make it work is for 12 of the 16 NL teams to play five interleague series, while the other four play six.
I understand, the schedule is ridiculously complicated, mostly because there are 14 teams in one league and 16 in the other. I realize that baseball allows its television partners (ESPN, Fox) to dictate some interleague matchups.
I'll even admit that the 2012 schedule seems a little more logical, with (for the most part) East meeting East, Central meeting Central and West meeting West.
But couldn't they bring the Braves to Kansas City? Just once?
Posted on: September 11, 2011 10:10 pm
In the September without pennant races, something strange is developing.
Real, live pennant races. The kind of races that get you excited, if your team is doing the chasing, or make you nervous, if your team is trying to hold on.
The kind of races that make you . . .
"Hell yeah, you've got to panic," David Ortiz told reporters Sunday, after his Red Sox were swept by the Rays to shrink their wild-card lead to just 3 1/2 games (with the Rays coming to Boston this week for four games).
They know the feeling in Texas, where the Rangers once led the Angels by seven games, but were just 1 1/2 games up as of Sunday morning (and back to 2 1/2 games as of Sunday night).
They're starting to feel it in Atlanta, where the Braves once led the wild card by nine games, then ended a bad week with just a 4 1/2-game lead over the Cardinals.
And yes, they know it in Boston, where they panicked at 0-6, and at 2-10. Yeah, they're going to panic, now that one more week like the last one would see them looking up at the Rays in the standings.
Eight days ago, the computers at coolstandings.com said the Sox were 99.6 percent sure to make the playoffs. Now, after seven losses in eight games (including three straight to the Rays), those same (panicking) computers dropped it to 88.2 percent.
Frank Wren knows the feeling. The Braves general manager said he was watching those computer readings a year ago, watching them drop from 95.8 percent to 60.1 percent.
The Braves did make the playoffs, although their spot wasn't guaranteed until the Giants beat the Padres on the final day of the season, three hours after the Braves played their last scheduled game.
It made for a fantastic final weekend, even if it also made for a lot of nervous moments for Wren and for Braves fans.
For baseball's sake, the best thing that can happen now is that the Red Sox-Rays race goes to the final weekend, that the Rangers-Angels race comes down to the two teams' three-game series in Anaheim the final three days of the season, and maybe even that the Cardinals get close enough for the Braves to shout, "Panic!"
Too much to hope for?
Maybe so, but on Labor Day, even one pennant race seemed too much to hope for.
This was the September without pennant races . . . until it wasn't.
On to 3 to Watch:
1. Since June 29, the Angels are 16-0 when they've started Jered Weaver or Dan Haren in a home game. That's nice, but it doesn't exactly help them this week, with neither Weaver nor Haren starting in a three-game series -- on the road -- in Oakland. The Angels begin a 10-game trip to Oakland, Baltimore and Toronto with Angels at A's, Monday night (10:05 ET) at the Coliseum, with Joel Pineiro on the mound. The last time the Angels were in Oakland, they lost three of four, allowing the Rangers to increase their AL West lead from 1 1/2 games to four games.
2. Should the Braves be worried that they have rookies starting all three games of the series that ends with Marlins at Braves, Wednesday afternoon (12:05 ET) at Turner Field? Not necessarily. The Braves have lost eight of their last 11, but all three wins in that stretch were started by rookies, including one by Randall Delgado, who starts Wednesday against the Marlins.
3. The Cardinals don't have any games remaining against the Braves (or against the Brewers, who they trail by six games in the NL Central). The Rangers and Angels don't meet until the final three games of the season, by which point we'll either have tons of drama or none of it. But the Rays are in Boston this week, for four games beginning with Rays at Red Sox, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Fenway Park. Unless Tampa Bay stumbles badly in three games before that in Baltimore (and even then, only if the Red Sox beat the Blue Jays at home), this weekend should be interesting. The Rays have Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields, Jeff Niemann and David Price set to go in the series. The Red Sox haven't even announced their starter for Thursday yet, and still don't know whether Josh Beckett will pitch in the series. One last thing to think about (for now) on Rays-Red Sox: If this race goes to the final six days of the season, the Yankees could have a big impact on it, with three games at home against the Sox followed by three at Tampa Bay. Imagine if the Red Sox need the Yankees to beat the Rays for them! Panic!
Posted on: September 7, 2011 7:59 pm
Edited on: September 7, 2011 7:59 pm
PHILADELPHIA -- With the Tigers on the way to winning the American League Central, four of the five AL Central teams will have won the division within the last five years. With the Brewers on the way to winning the National League Central, the same holds true there.
More than half the teams in baseball -- 17 out of 30 -- will have won at least one division title since 2007. But only one team in the National League East is on that list.
Compared to the Braves, who won 14 straight division crowns, the Phillies' soon-to-be five-year reign may not seem like much. But in the 43-year history of division play, the Phillies will be just the fifth team with a streak that long.
But that's it.
"Everyone always assumes that when you're a good team, it's a foregone conclusion that you're going to win," Brad Lidge said Wednesday, before the Phillies tried to extend their lead to 10 1/2 games over the second-place Braves. "But a lot of teams get derailed by injuries, or the chemistry isn't right.
"We've had countless injuries, and it's still like a machine that keeps going. It's pretty cool to be here right now."
As Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said, "They play more consistently than anyone else, including us. Will they get to 14? That's a long way off."
So many teams don't get to two. Of the six teams that won division titles last year, only the Phillies and the Rangers have any real chance to repeat -- and the Rangers still need to hold off the Angels.
"It's hard," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "If you're not careful, when you start the season, there's an expectation that you've already won it."
Posted on: September 6, 2011 6:19 pm
Edited on: September 6, 2011 6:45 pm
Chipper Jones' admiration for the Phillies goes beyond the players on the field.
Jones said this week that he considers Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro the executive of the year. He pointed to the Phillies' acquisitions of Cliff Lee and Hunter Pence, and even to last season's moves for Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt.
"Those are executive of the year type moves," Jones said. "When he swings moves like those, he throws a gut punch at everyone in the division."
Jones said this week that he believes the Braves can challenge the Phillies in the National League playoffs. But that shouldn't be taken to mean he has any less respect for the Phils.
"They play more consistently than anyone else -- including us," Jones said.
Posted on: September 5, 2011 8:59 pm
Edited on: September 5, 2011 11:05 pm
PHILADELPHIA -- When the Braves came here last September, they trailed the Phillies by three games. When they showed up this week, they were 7 1/2 games back.
That's fine, but when the Braves came here last September, they looked like no match for the Phillies, either in the division race or in a potential playoff series. They came here this week looking -- and feeling -- like a team with a chance, if the teams end up meeting in the National League Championship Series.
"I think we match up with these guys better than we ever have," pitcher Tim Hudson said Monday, and you can be sure that even a 9-0 loss to Cliff Lee didn't change his mind.
The Braves acknowledge that the Phillies are the National League's best team. They acknowledge that they'd need to be at their best to win, even in a short series.
"You've got to play a perfect game against the Phillies," Chipper Jones said. "But we know we have a chance."
They also know that it's no guarantee they'll ever see the Phillies in October. Both teams would need to advance through the first round, and as of now the Braves are looking at a tricky first-round series against the Brewers.
But the point isn't that the Braves should be considered the favorite in the NL playoffs. The point is that unlike last year, when the Braves stumbled into the playoffs undermanned, this year a Braves-Phillies NLCS would seem to be worth watching.
The Braves know that they're the only team in baseball that owns wins this year over each of the Phillies' Big 3 starting pitchers -- Roy Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels.
Against the Braves, the Phillies are just 5-5 with Halladay, Lee or Hamels on the mound (including Monday's win). Against everyone else in baseball, they were 52-21 with one of those three starting.
"Look, those three are as good as it gets," Jones said. "We know it. Everyone else knows it. But when you see them as much as we have, we've made some adjustments."
Adjustments or not, the Braves are a different team than the one the Phillies completely outclassed last September. That's true even with Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens on the disabled list, although obviously the Braves' chances improve if either or both returns in time for the playoffs.
Without Hanson and Jurrjens, the Braves would have a postseason rotation of two veterans -- Hudson and Derek Lowe -- and two rookies -- Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor.
"We feel like we'd be in pretty good shape," Braves general manager Frank Wren said.
A year ago, they weren't. Jones was hurt and missed the playoffs. Martin Prado was also hurt, which is why Brooks Conrad had to play (and committed the key errors that helped knock the Braves out of the playoffs against the Giants). Jurrjens was hurt. Billy Wagner was hurt.
"We were a shell of the team we had been in August," Wren said.
They looked like no match at all for the Phillies, no matter what the standings said in mid-September.
They look like an underdog this year, but one with a shot.
"We feel like we're very competitive," Wren said. "I think [the Phillies] are the best team in the NL, but we feel like every time we play them, we can win.
"I don't think there's much separation between the two teams."
I'm not sure I'd go that far. The Phillies clearly look like the best team in the league, and maybe in all of baseball, just as they did entering the playoffs last year.
But last year, I'd have given the Braves no chance. This year, I'd say, they've got a shot.