Posted on: September 24, 2010 11:45 am
Edited on: September 24, 2010 12:23 pm

3 to watch: The Giant issue edition

Even if you count the Rockies as now basically out of the National League West -- the standings say they're in serious trouble, their recent history says who knows? -- the Giants' three games this weekend at Coors Field are a potentially huge obstacle to San Francisco's chances of winning the division.

Despite what happened Thursday at Wrigley Field (a nine-run inning, a 13-0 win), the Giants' path to first place in the West has been built almost totally on pitching. Including Thursday, they've now gone 17 games since they last allowed four runs, a streak that according to the Elias Sports Bureau is the longest by any team in a single season since the 1917 White Sox went 20 games in a row.

Now they go to Coors Field, where the Rockies have scored four or more in 19 of their last 21 games, and where the home team hits so well that some Giants apparently think the Rockies have been monkeying with the humidor process .

Since Coors Field opened in 1995, only five teams have gone through an entire three-game series without ever allowing four runs. All five of those series have come in the humidor era (which began in 2002), but it still comes down to one series a season -- and it hasn't happened yet this year.

And the Giants, despite all their pitching and despite three trips a year to Colorado, have never done it.

Maybe that's why the Giants haven't won a season series at Coors since 2005. They're 2-4 in the first six games this year, so they'd need a sweep to win this season series.

Given the Rockies' collapse on the road this week -- they couldn't hold a 6-1 lead Sunday in Los Angeles, then got swept in three games in Arizona -- the Giants don't necessarily need a sweep this weekend. Their lead over the Padres is only a half-game, but San Diego also faces a potentially tough series, at home against the Reds.

Besides, the Giants' head-to-head showdown with the Padres next weekend will be at AT&T Park, where the Giants have allowed just 16 runs in their last nine games.

On to 3 to watch:

1. Tim Lincecum hasn't won at Coors Field since May 20, 2008. Then again, Lincecum hadn't won anywhere for a month before his 2-1 win over the Rockies on Sept. 1 in San Francisco. He's been very good the entire month, and maybe that means he'll win at Coors, too, when he opens the series in Giants at Rockies, Friday night (8:10 ET) at Coors Field . While the Giants are 0-4 in Lincecum's last four starts in Colorado, he hasn't been awful, with a 4.32 ERA in that span.

2. The Reds enter the weekend with a magic number of 3, and that means the soonest they could clinch their first division title in 15 years is in Reds at Padres, Saturday afternoon (4:05 ET) at Petco Park . That would take a little cooperation from the second-place Cardinals, but all the Cardinals have been doing recently is cooperating. As Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse pointed out on Twitter, the Cards are 9-17 since Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols attended Glenn Beck's rally in Washington.

3. The biggest advantage the Braves have in the National League wild-card race is that the Giants and Padres play each other next weekend. That means for three of the remaining 10 days on the schedule, either the Giants or the Padres is guaranteed to lose (and that the team that wins could win the division and not affect the Braves' wild-card chances at all). For it to be an advantage, though, the Braves need to win. They need to do to the Nationals this weekend what they did to the Mets last weekend, and that means they need to beat Livan Hernandez in Braves at Nationals, Sunday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Nationals Park . Hernandez threw eight shutout innings in a 6-0 win over the Braves last weekend in Atlanta, and he's 2-1 with a 2.19 ERA in four starts against the Braves this year. The Braves starter Sunday, they hope is Jair Jurrjens, who missed his Monday start in Philadelphia with a knee problem. As manager Bobby Cox said, "He'd better be able to pitch." Sunday is also the Braves' final regular-season road game, which means it's the final time an opposing team will pay tribute to Cox, who is retiring at the end of the season. The best gifts he has received so far: a No. 6 from the scoreboard at Wrigley Field, a set of wine glasses with all the NL team logos from the Reds, and many checks to support his charity helping homeless veterans. Cox entered the weekend with 2,499 wins in 4,499 career games.

Posted on: September 15, 2010 2:07 pm

And in 2011, interleague play will help the . . .

As it turns out, no one is making the 2010 playoffs because of interleague play.

Two of the three American League teams that did the best against the National League (the Red Sox and White Sox) won't make the playoffs at all, and the third (the Rangers) was the dominant team in the AL West, in-league and out-of-league.

The only NL team that truly excelled in interleague was the Mets, and they're not making the playoffs, either.

Still, there's no doubt that the interleague system is flawed, and that every year, some teams get easier interleague schedules (and thus, easier overall schedules) than other teams in the same division (or other teams fighting for the same wild-card spot).

So, now that baseball has released the 2011 schedule, it's worth taking an early look at how interleague play may be flawed next year:

First off, there don't seem to be as many disparities as there were in the 2010 schedule, which had the Red Sox playing four of their six interleague series against playoff teams from the previous year, while the Rays played none of their six. As it turned out, the Red Sox still outdid the Rays in interleague, 13-5 to 7-11.

Second, it appears that the 2011 schedule is somewhat truer to the original division vs. division concept. The rough matchups for 2011 have the AL East playing the NL Central, the AL Central playing the NL West and the AL West playing the NL East.

As always, those matchups don't hold up completely, both because of the desire to preserve geographical matchups (Yankees vs. Mets, Twins vs. Brewers, etc.) and because one league has 16 teams and the other has 14. So you still have out-of-the-blue series like Rockies at Yankees (while the Yankees play only three of the six NL Central teams). But there don't seem to be nearly as many of them.

So who comes off best and who comes off worst? It's subject to change, of course, because teams that make the playoffs this year may be bad next May and June, or vice versa, but here goes:

Toughest interleague schedule for an AL team: the Mariners, who play four of their six series against current NL playoff teams. They have their usual home-and-home with the Padres, and they're also one of the two AL West teams that will play both the Phillies and the Braves (the Rangers are the other).

Easiest interleague schedule for an AL team: the White Sox, who play none of their six series against current playoff teams (and only one, against the Rockies, against a team that even has a chance at making the playoffs this year).

Biggest disparity within an AL division: the East, where the Blue Jays (without a geographical rival) draw the top two teams in the NL East (Phillies and Braves) and the top two in the Central (Reds, Cardinals). Meanwhile, the Yankees and Rays avoid both the Phillies and Braves, and instead get rivalry series against the Mets and Marlins.

Toughest interleague schedule for an NL team: the Brewers, who will get three of the four AL playoff teams (Twins, Yankees, Rays), plus an extra series against the Twins.

Easiest interleague schedule for an NL team: the Nationals and Pirates, the only two teams who will avoid all four AL playoff teams. Not that it will help either team.

Biggest disparity within an NL division: the Central, where not only do the Brewers have four series against playoff teams while the Pirates have none, but at the top of the division the Reds get both the Yankees and Rays while the Cardinals get the Rays but miss the Yankees.

Unusual interleague series I'd most like to see: Padres at Red Sox, but only if the Padres haven't traded Adrian Gonzalez. Is he really that well suited to hitting at Fenway Park? Two others: Rangers at Braves, with Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and the others acquired in the Mark Teixeira trade finally get to Turner Field. Diamondbacks at Tigers, but only if Kirk Gibson hangs on as the Diamondbacks manager and then names Alan Trammell as his bench coach.

Interleague series I most want to avoid: Pirates at Indians. Have fun selling tickets for that one.
Posted on: August 21, 2010 10:00 pm
Edited on: August 21, 2010 10:24 pm

First we watch, then we hope

They panned the Phillies dugout during the first inning of Saturday's game against the Nationals. As Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler noted on the Phillies telecast, every player seemed intently focused on the guy on the mound for Washington.

Roy Halladay. Roy Oswalt. Jayson Werth. All of them.

Stephen Strasburg attracts that kind of attention, that kind of respect, even at age 21, even three months into his major-league career.

They all want to see him. We all want to see him.

And once again tonight, for the second time in four weeks, we're all hoping that Strasburg isn't seriously hurt.

He walked off the mound in the fifth inning of the game against the Phillies, wincing in pain after his final pitch, then looking down at his valuable right arm.

Perhaps it isn't that serious. The Nationals announced after the game that Strasburg has a strained flexor tendon in his right forearm, and that he'll have an MRI done on Sunday.

At the least, it's a reminder of what we always say, how any pitch can be the last one. It's why we always try to qualify every prediction of greatness by adding "if he stays healthy."

It's why you can't blame Strasburg for holding out for a $15.1 million guaranteed contract before signing with the Nationals last summer. It's why we always mention guys like Mark Prior, who was an 18-game winner and Cy Young candidate at age 22, then out of the game three years later.

It's why the Nationals were so cautious last month, when Strasburg said he had trouble getting loose while warming up for a start against the Braves. They held him out for two weeks, then allowed him to return 11 days ago. The start Saturday was his third since returning to the rotation.

Saturday, he was as impressive as ever. The fastball was 97-98 mph, the curve looked unhittable, and he was throwing everything for strikes. In 4 1/3 innings, he had allowed the Phillies just two hits.

You can bet they were impressed. You can bet that they'll say Strasburg lived up to the hype.

And you can bet they'll say they hope he's OK.

Category: MLB
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 4:50 pm

Rizzo wasn't kidding, Nats keep Dunn

Mike Rizzo wasn't kidding.

The Nationals general manager told teams early on the same thing he was saying in public -- that he wouldn't move Adam Dunn unless he got a huge return. He asked for the moon, and by all indications he never backed down.

In any case, he didn't trade Dunn before Saturday's 4 p.m. non-waiver deadline. Now, unless the Nationals sign Dunn to an extension -- there have been talks, but there's a major difference on the number of years -- Dunn will likely leave as a free agent.

Rizzo has said all along, and said to me again on Friday afternoon, that he would have no problem accepting two draft picks if Dunn leaves. That's somewhat understandable, because Rizzo has a scouting background, and has had great success in the draft, both in Washington and in his previous role as Diamondbacks scouting director.

But as a wise baseball man said, if there's anything less certain than a minor-league prospect, it's a prospect out of the draft.

It's fair to wonder whether Rizzo made the right call. It's impossible to know exactly what he could have gotten in return for Dunn. He kept demanding such a high price, that it's hard to know what teams would have offered had he shown an inclination to compromise.

He said Friday that there would be no compromise, and that if no team met his stated price, he'd be happy to keep Dunn.

Now the deadline has passed, and the Nationals still have Dunn.

Mike Rizzo wasn't kidding.
Posted on: July 30, 2010 11:04 am

3 to watch: The Roy II edition

Aren't top starting pitchers supposed to be hard to find? Don't you need to develop your own, because you'll never be able to trade for one?

This July, they're everywhere.

Well, not everywhere, but the Rangers (Cliff Lee), Angels (Dan Haren) and Phillies (Roy Oswalt) were each able to trade for a starting pitcher whose was a multiple-time All-Star. Two of the three (Lee and Oswalt) have been 20-game winners. All three have received Cy Young votes.

There have been other trades made this month. There will be more trades made before Saturday's 4 p.m. EDT deadline for making deals without waivers.

But we can already say that this will be the July of the ace pitcher.

The Phillies won't be surprised. They've made five in-season trades for starting pitchers in as many years. They've made two trades for All-Star pitchers named Roy in just the last eight months.

Three of the four starters in their likely postseason rotation (if they get there) were acquired in trades.

Trading for Joe Blanton two years ago helped the Phillies win the World Series. Trading for Lee last year got the Phillies back to the World Series.

Now they have Oswalt, to slot in behind Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels in a top of the rotation that could be the best in the game.

Other teams will deal for starting pitchers this month. The White Sox were trying to get Edwin Jackson Friday morning. The Dodgers were reportedly talking about Ted Lilly. Jake Westbrook and Jeremy Guthrie are still out there.

There are some hitters still available, most notably Adam Dunn and Lance Berkman.

But this will be known as the July of the ace, the July of Lee, Haren and Oswalt.

On to 3 to watch:

1. Halladay made his Phillies debut with an 11-1 win on opening day in Washington. Now Oswalt goes to the same spot for his Phils debut, in Phillies at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park . The Nats won't have Stephen Strasburg to help them sell tickets this weekend, but all that means is that there will be more available for the army of fans traveling down from Philly. One thing they might not want to know: Oswalt is winless in his last seven starts against the Nats, last winning in 2005 at RFK Stadium.

2. It's probably the pennant race more than the possibility of a 600th home run, but Tropicana Field is sold out for all three games this weekend. It will be the first time that the Rays have sold out three consecutive regular-season games. One attraction is Matt Garza, whose first start since his no-hitter comes in Yankees at Rays, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at Tropicana Field .

3. What the Padres have done so far this year is impressive, but the National League West race still seems wide open. One scout familiar with the division predicted this week that the Giants have the best chance of winning it. It sure would help if they added a hitter. By the time they see Clayton Kershaw, in Dodgers at Giants, Sunday night (8:05 ET) at AT&T Park , we'll know whether they have.
Posted on: July 27, 2010 2:07 pm

Dunn may well be dealt, but not for Garza

Teams that have spoken to the Nationals about Adam Dunn believe there's a good chance Dunn will be traded by the end of the week.

They also think that the price Nats GM Mike Rizzo is asking for Dunn right now is ridiculously high. Rizzo has been telling teams that to trade Dunn, he would need to get a young starting pitcher who is either major-league ready or close to it.

How ready? Well, according to a source familiar with the talks, last week the Nationals asked the Rays for Matt Garza.

Obviously, that wasn't happening, even before Garza threw the first no-hitter in Rays history on Monday night against the Tigers.

While there's no way for them to know for sure, rival teams believe that Rizzo plans to move Dunn, who is in the last year of his contract. Because of that, they believe that Rizzo's asking price will eventually drop, and that a deal will get done.

The Rays and White Sox have shown interest in Dunn, but a scout from another American League team said he thinks it would be a mistake for an AL team to trade for him. Dunn has said many times that he has no interest in being a designated hitter, and the scout believes that Dunn wouldn't be happy with an AL team.

The Giants, who have also checked on Dunn, would seem to be a better fit. But Giants GM Brian Sabean has been reluctant to move any of his best pitchers, and it's hard to believe he would include them in a move for a rental player like Dunn.


In other trade talk Tuesday, opposing teams increasingly believe that the Phillies want to move Jayson Werth. The asking price for Werth has been similar to what Washington wants for Dunn: a young starting pitcher. Werth will also be a free agent this winter, and while there's believed to be little chance he'll re-sign with the Phillies, one scout said: "He should never leave that ballpark." . . . Other teams still don't count out the Phillies in the Roy Oswalt sweepstakes, even though it's well-known that Oswalt would prefer to be dealt to St. Louis, Atlanta or Texas. The Cardinals have interest, but some people who know Astros owner Drayton McLane don't believe he would send Oswalt to the Cards -- or to the Rangers. And the Braves have not shown interest.
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.

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