Posted on: June 3, 2011 7:04 pm
Edited on: June 3, 2011 8:07 pm

Braves to McCann: Go ahead, block the plate

NEW YORK -- Like the Giants, the Braves have a catcher who bats cleanup. Like the Giants, the Braves have had trouble scoring runs and need that catcher in the lineup regularly.

But even with what happened to Buster Posey, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he would want Brian McCann to block the plate to cut off a run.

"You can't worry," Gonzalez said Friday. "People have gotten hurt coming down the steps. I don't think you can tell an athlete, a competitor, 'Don't block the plate.'

"I want him to give us an opportunity to win the game, and if that's by blocking the plate, it's by blocking the plate. I couldn't bring myself to say that to Brian -- don't block the plate."

Gonzalez, the former Marlins manager, also defended Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins, saying he thought Cousins did nothing wrong in the play on which Posey was hurt.

"I've looked over the film," Gonzalez said. "I thought it was a clean play."

Posted on: June 2, 2011 7:26 pm
Edited on: June 2, 2011 8:03 pm

3 to Watch: The Indian Central edition

The Tigers know better than most teams that early-season leads in the American League Central don't always hold.

Or they ought to.

They've been where the Indians are now. They've been the surprise team. They've been in first place in June.

They've been chased down, and they still haven't ever won an AL Central title (they went to the World Series as a wild card in 2006 and last won a division crown in the AL East in 1987).

The Tigers also know that it doesn't really get uncomfortable for the team in front until one of the chasing teams starts winning every day.

And that's why this could be a significant weekend in the Central.

The Indians are home against the Rangers, continuing the most difficult stretch of their schedule so far (with a trip to New York coming up next week).

Meanwhile, the Tigers have won four in a row. The White Sox just swept a three-game series in Boston.

And the Tigers and White Sox meet this weekend in Chicago.

So far, the Indians really haven't been challenged. They went just 14-12 in May, but entered the month 4 1/2 games in front and finished it with a five-game lead. They went 3-5 over the last eight games and lost just two games off their lead.

Can the Tigers put heat on them? Can the White Sox?

Maybe this weekend will give us a hint.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Remember when we were wondering if Fausto Carmona would pitch well enough to interest a contender in trading for him? Now we're asking if Carmona can pitch consistently enough for the contending Indians. While the rest of the rotation has been solid, the Indians' opening day starter is winless in five starts since May 3. Worse yet, he's getting worse, allowing 19 earned runs in 17 innings over his last three starts (all losses). Carmona is also winless in his last four starts against Texas, the team he'll face in Rangers at Indians, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field.

2. In April, the Tigers beat Mark Buehrle for the first time in nine starts since July 2007. Saturday, the White Sox will try to beat Justin Verlander for the first time in seven starts since September 2008. Verlander has won each of his last six starts against Chicago, going at least seven innings each time, with three complete games and a 2.03 ERA. He faces ex-Tiger Edwin Jackson in Tigers at White Sox, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at U.S. Cellular Field.

3. Jair Jurrjens is always the Braves starter who gets overlooked. But Jurrjens was the National League's pitcher of the month in May, Jurrjens is the major-league ERA leader for the year, and Jurrjens has to be the NL Cy Young leader at this point. He's also one of just four pitchers ever (according to the Elias Sports Bureau) to go at least six innings in each of his first nine starts while never allowing more than two earned runs. Two of the other three (Lefty Gomez in 1937 and Randy Johnson in 2000) had the streak end at nine. The only one who went longer was Ubaldo Jimenez, who got to 12 games with last year's Rockies. Jurrjens goes for 10 in Braves at Mets, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at Citi Field. Mets starter Dillon Gee has his own distinction as just the second Mets rookie to begin a season 5-0. Jon Matlack started 6-0 (and finished 15-10) in 1972.

Posted on: May 23, 2011 1:50 pm
Edited on: May 23, 2011 4:34 pm

A's Fuentes is making (losing) history

In 16-plus years as a Yankees reliever, Mariano Rivera only once lost as many as six games in a season -- and never more than six.

In 47 games with the A's, Brian Fuentes now has six losses.

According to baseball-reference.com, only one relief pitcher since 1919 has ever lost more games this early in a season. Gene Garber lost seven of the first 47 games with the 1979 Braves (who, not coincidentally, were 18-29 on the way to a 94-loss season). Before Fuentes, the only pitcher in the last 20 years to lose six of his team's first 47 games was Vic Darensbourg, who did it with the fire-sale Marlins of 1998.

Yes, I realize that wins and losses don't tell the full story for any pitcher. But when your closer keeps losing games (and Fuentes is the A's closer, with Andrew Bailey on the disabled list), you've got trouble.

Seven times this year, A's manager Bob Geren has put Fuentes in a tie game. He lost five of those games, an amazing (and devastating) stat for a pitcher who almost never works more than one inning. Fuentes' other loss came after one of his two blown saves.

If you're wondering how the A's could be below .500 this year despite a rotation that has by far the lowest ERA in baseball (2.67, which is 0.38 better than the second-best Mariners), obviously their weak lineup is part of the answer. But so is Fuentes.

Posted on: May 3, 2011 4:36 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2011 6:49 pm

What will baseball do about its DUI problem?

Baseball suspended Ozzie Guillen for tweeting during a game.

Shin-Soo Choo was arrested for driving under the influence, and he isn't expected to miss a game.

We shouldn't be surprised. Choo is the sixth baseball player to face DUI charges this year alone.

Not one of the six has missed a regular-season game because of it.

I'm not sure what the proper penalty should be. Choo, like the others, does face legal charges.

But like the others, he won't face any baseball charges. There's no precedent for punishing players for off-field matters, and for now the Basic Agreement between the players and owners doesn't provide for it.

With six DUI incidents this year, you can be sure the owners will raise the issue in this summer's negotiations on a new Basic Agreement.

Meanwhile, baseball gets another black eye.

Fortunately, none of the players cited for DUI so far this year seems to have hurt anyone. But fans remember that Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver two years ago, and one fan suggested to me on Twitter that any player getting a DUI should be forced to donate a month's salary to the Adenhart Memorial Fund.

So far, that's not happening.

All we can do is present the ugly list, with the ugly details, and hope that the next player who goes out drinking remembers that he has enough money to afford a cab home -- and that the potential cost to his reputation is a lot more than the price of that cab ride:

The list:

-- Adam Kennedy, Mariners, Jan. 26 in Newport Beach, Calif. Kennedy signed with the Mariners on Jan. 10. Not even three weeks later, he was calling Seattle reporters to apologize to fans, after he was caught driving over the limit. "Regettable is an understatement," Kennedy told the Seattle Times.

-- Austin Kearns, Indians, Feb. 12 in Nicholasville, Ky. Police said Kearns was driving down an emergency lane without headlights, and was weaving. No wonder he didn't tell the Indians about it until the arrest became public several weeks later.

-- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, Feb. 16 in St. Lucie County, Fla. This was the ugliest of all of them, with Cabrera allegedly firing threats and drinking Scotch in front of police officers. Baseball worked out a treatment plan for Cabrera, but said he would face penalties if he didn't stick to the plan.

-- Coco Crisp, A's, March 2 in Scottsdale, Ariz. Crisp was stopped at 2:15 a.m., driving a 2009 Rolls Royce Phantom with an expired license.

-- Derek Lowe, Braves, April 28 in Atlanta. Another bad one. According to police, Lowe was drag-racing another car, while drunk, on Peachtree Road in Buckhead.

-- Shin-soo Choo, Indians, May 2 in Sheffield Lake, Ohio. The details are still to emerge on this one, but Choo was picked up early Monday morning. Police said he blew a 0.20 on the Breathalyzer test, more than twice the legal limit. Police also said he asked an officer for directions to his (Choo's) home, then was weaving as he drove away and was pulled over.

Posted on: May 1, 2011 7:09 pm

3 to watch: The welcome back edition

The Brewers played all of April without Zack Greinke. The Rays basically played all of April without Evan Longoria.

The Brewers survived. And so did the Rays.

This week, Greinke comes off the disabled list. So does Longoria.

And thanks to the hard work done by their teammates, they come back to teams that were far from buried in their absence.

Greinke, remember, was the biggest addition the Brewers made to a rotation that finished 27th in baseball in ERA last year, and a dead-last 30th the year before. Then Greinke decided to play basketball before spring training, and a broken rib cost him the season's first month.

Without him, the Brewer starters finished April with a 3.56 ERA, good for sixth in baseball.

The Brewers are a game under .500, at 13-14, but in the wacky National League Central, that leaves them only 2 1/2 games out of first place.

The Rays, at 15-13, face the same 2 1/2-game deficit in the American League East. They went an impressive 15-11 without Longoria, set to return Tuesday after missing a full month with an oblique injury.

When Longoria was hurt, the Rays were not only winless, they seemed punchless. Some people (yeah, that would include me) wondered if they'd score any runs without their star third baseman, especially after Manny Ramirez's sudden retirement.

Some people (yeah, that would include me) thought there was a chance the Rays could be buried in the AL East standings by the time Longoria came back.

They scored runs, and they're not buried -- even though the combined OPS of Rays third baseman (mostly Felipe Lopez and Sean Rodriguez) has been .595, worse than every AL team but the Tigers.

Now Longoria is coming back. And so is Greinke.

On to 3 to watch:

1. Two years ago, the Angels finally won a playoff series from the Red Sox. It felt huge. It felt like a big change. And ever since, the Angels basically haven't beaten the Red Sox at anything. They've lost 13 of 14 to Boston from the start of 2010, and they lost free-agent target Carl Crawford to the Red Sox last winter, too. You wonder if that changes this week, especially after Jered Weaver had to scratch from Sunday's start at Tampa Bay because of a stomach virus. Instead, Weaver will start Angels at Red Sox, Monday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. Weaver, who has won each of his first six starts, was the only Angels starter the Red Sox didn't face in their four-game sweep a week and half back in Anaheim.

2. Longoria hit .385 last year against Toronto, the opponent when he returns to the lineup in Blue Jays at Rays, Tuesday night (6:40 ET) at Tropicana Field. Then again, maybe last year's numbers mean nothing. After all, Jose Bautista hit .233 last year against the Rays, and his four home runs in 18 games were the fewest he hit against any AL East opponent. In his first three games against the Rays this year, Bautista was 6-for-8, with three home runs.

3. Greinke was well aware of how the Brewer starters pitched in his absence. "I was thinking, 'Do they even want me back, or are they going to make him stay down there a little while longer?'" he told reporters covering the Brewers. No, one month without Greinke was plenty, and the team will welcome him back for Brewers at Braves, Wednesday night (7:10 ET) at Turner Field. Manager Ron Roenicke said Greinke would be limited at about 90 pitches, but that may not be a problem. This is a guy who once threw a complete-game shutout, with 10 strikeouts, on just 104 pitches, and had another complete-game win, with 12 strikeouts, on 105 pitches.

Posted on: April 12, 2011 12:40 pm

A do-over? No. Believe it or not, no.

In Monday's blog entry on the Rockies, Troy Tulowitzki said he gets a kick out of looking at the early-season standings, which show the usually slow-starting Rockies on top in the National League West, at 7-2
So I looked a little more closely at the standings this morning. I got a different kick.

Ten games into the season, four of the eight teams I picked to make the playoffs are under .500. The two teams I picked to meet in the World Series -- the Braves and the Red Sox -- are a combined 6-14.

Is there still time to change those picks?

No, there isn't. And no, I don't want to change them, anyway.

I'm sticking to them, as wrong as they look right now.

Yes, the Red Sox are going to come back (I'm sure of it). Yes, the Braves are going to rally (I'm sure of it). Yes, the Cardinals are going to win the National League Central (uh, I'm not so sure of that).

So yes, I'm sticking to my picks.

But check back with me in another 10 games.
Category: MLB
Tags: Braves, Red Sox
Posted on: March 25, 2011 1:09 pm

Braves 'cautiously optimistic' about Jurrjens

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Braves remain hopeful, but not certain, that Jair Jurrjens will be able to take his spot in their season-opening rotation.

Jurrjens left Thursday's start after just one inning, after he complained of discomfort in his right side. He said afterwards that he expected to make his final scheduled spring start on Tuesday night in Atlanta, but Braves general manager Frank Wren said Friday that Jurrjens will likely skip that start.

Wren said that Jurrjens felt good when he reported to the Braves clubhouse Friday morning.

"We're cautiously optimistic," he said.

Jurrjens is tentatively scheduled to start the Braves' fourth regular-season game, in Milwaukee on April 6. Because of an off day on April 11, the Braves will need their fifth starter only once in the first two weeks of the season, so if the Braves want to be more cautious, they could use Brandon Beachy in the fourth spot and Jurrjens fifth.
Category: MLB
Posted on: March 24, 2011 2:54 pm

Beachy to be Braves' 5th starter, Jurrjens OK

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Brandon Beachy will be the Braves' fifth starter.

That's assuming they don't need him to be the fourth starter.

Beachy won the spring competition over Mike Minor for the lone open spot in the Braves rotation, and Thursday morning the team told Minor he would be optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett.

Then, on Thursday afternoon, fourth starter Jair Jurrjens had to leave his start against the Blue Jays after just one inning, because of discomfort in his right side.

If that sounds ominous, Jurrjens insisted that it shouldn't. He said he's sure he'll be able to make his final spring start, next Tuesday in Atlanta against the Twins, and that he'll be ready for the season.

"It was just a little discomfort, and they didn't want me to make it worse," Jurrjens said. "If it was serious, I wouldn't have been able to pitch to another batter. If it was the oblique, I wouldn't be able to stand up."

Jurrjens said he felt the pain, which he described as more of a cramp, when he retired Yunel Escobar on a ground ball for the second out of the first inning. Jurrjens then struck out Jose Bautista to end the inning.

Jurrjens won 14 games for the Braves in 2009, but he was limited to 20 starts because of injuries last year.

The 24-year-old Beachy, who debuted with the Braves last September, has a 1.80 ERA in three official spring appearances, and also was impressive in a "B" game start against the Cardinals.

Minor, who was the seventh pick overall in the 2009 draft (and also debuted last year), had an 0.90 ERA in three spring appearances.

"We just feel Brandon gives us a better chance to win right now," general manager Frank Wren told MLB.com . "It was a tough decision to make."

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