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Posted on: June 4, 2010 10:28 am
Edited on: June 4, 2010 10:30 am

3 to watch: The Nationals league edition

Next week we'll ask whether Stephen Strasburg can transform the Nationals.

Today we're asking whether Strasburg can help change the image of the National League. Because right now, when a guy is struggling (or just plain lousy) in the American League, the common thought is that he might be better in the NL.

Or didn't you read about this week's Dontrelle Willis trade?

Willis has a career National League ERA of 3.78. He has a career American League ERA of 6.86. And instead of saying that his career went downhill after the 2007 trade that sent him from the Marlins to the Tigers -- and, in reality, had started to go downhill in his last two seasons in Florida -- the story when he was traded to the Diamondbacks this week was that maybe a change back to the NL would help.

Nice thought, except the National League scouts we talked to wanted nothing to do with Willis, not at the major-league minimum (which is all the Diamondbacks will be paying).

"I was really surprised that Detroit was fortunate enough to trade him," said one scout who watched Willis this season. "That's a great deal for Detroit, because they get a player [Billy Buckner] back.

"We'd take a chance on a pitcher, but not him. If my general manager would have called, I'd have said no. If he can get you five innings, then he's had a heck of a night. His command and control are just not very good."

In 22 career starts for the Tigers -- that's all they got for their $29 million -- Willis had just two games where he got an out in the seventh inning, and none where he finished seven innings. He averaged 5 1/3 innings a start this season.

Sounds perfect for a team with the worst bullpen in the majors (7.51 ERA).

"Is he going to start for them?" the scout asked. "Well, good for him. Whatever."

With that kind of report, how can we do anything but feature Willis' Diamondback debut in this weekend's 3 to watch:

1. Roy Halladay ended May with a perfect game. But if you take the whole month, Halladay's May ERA of 2.15 ranked just fourth among National League starters, behind Ubaldo Jimenez (0.78), Mat Latos (1.54) and Matt Cain (1.81). And in his first start since the perfect game, Halladay goes up against Latos, in Padres at Phillies, Friday night (7:05 EDT) at Citizens Bank Park . This is probably as good a time as any to remind you that since his perfect game, Mark Buehrle has won just five of his 24 starts. And since his perfect game, Dallas Braden is 0-3 in four starts, with a 4.13 ERA. If Halladay starts slipping, then maybe Armando Galarraga should thank Jim Joyce, after all.

2. The Diamondbacks sent out a mass e-mail on Thursday, filled with positive notes about how well their team is doing. That's a team that just finished an 0-9 road trip, a team that has lost 10 in a row, a team that got walked-off each of the last four games, a team that hasn't scored a run in 31 innings. Sounds like the kind of team that can turn Willis into a winner -- or at least pretend that he's winning. We'll see, when he faces Jhoulys Chacin, in Rockies at Diamondbacks, Saturday night (8:10 ET) at Chase Field .

3. It really is too bad that the Nationals didn't have Strasburg debut this weekend, perhaps on Saturday night against fellow San Diego native Mike Leake (who already has four major-league wins and has helped his team into first place). Instead, they chose to hold him back for Tuesday, against a Pirates offense that might more closely resemble the International League lineups he has been carving up in Syracuse. Oh well. We'll make do with Luis Atilano on Saturday, and Craig Stammen, in Reds at Nationals, Sunday afternoon (1:35 EDT) at Nationals Park . Remember, it's the last game the Nationals will ever play (at least for now) without Strasburg on their roster.

Posted on: May 30, 2010 5:48 pm
Edited on: May 31, 2010 8:57 am

3 to watch: The Are you serious? edition

After 52 games a year ago, the Blue Jays were 29-23, and just 1 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East. Their early schedule had been favorable, the upcoming schedule looked tougher, and by year's end the Jays had a 75-87 record that helped get general manager J.P. Ricciardi fired and helped get Roy Halladay traded to Philadelphia.

So if you want to get excited about the Jays' current 30-22 record, go right ahead. We'll look at a favorable early schedule, and an upcoming schedule that looks much tougher, and we'll say that until proven otherwise, the Jays of 2010 aren't noticeably better than the Jays of 2009.

The Jays are 2-7 against the Big 3 in the American League East, and that's bad news in two ways. One, it says they're probably not nearly as good as their overall record. Two, it means that 45 of their remaining 110 games (41 percent) are against the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox.

In fact, of Toronto's remaining 37 games before the All-Star break, only four will be against a team currently under .500. They start that stretch this week, with three against the Rays, then their first three of the season with the Yankees.

And that's why the Blue Jays have a spot in this week's 3 to watch:

1. The Braves were basically in first place for 15 straight years, from 1991-2005 (yes, we know they were in second when the strike hit in 1994). The Braves basically haven't been in first place since 2005 (yes, we know that they were in first as late as May 15 in 2007). The Braves were in last place, 6 1/2 games out of first, just two weeks ago. Now they could take over first, in a series that includes Phillies at Braves, Tuesday night (7:10 EDT) at Turner Field . The Braves (15-4 since May 10) could actually take over first place on Monday, but Tuesday's pitching matchup is Tim Hudson (4-0, 1.59 this month) against Cole Hamels (3-1, 2.45 this month).

2. The Blue Jays have scored more runs than any American League team but the Yankees. That didn't help them the first time they faced David Price; he threw a four-hitter for his first career shutout. The Jays get another chance at Price, in Rays at Blue Jays, Wednesday night (7:07 EDT) at Rogers Centre . Price's opponent: Shaun Marcum, who hasn't faced the Rays since 2008 but is 2-0 against them in his career, with an 0.75 ERA.

3. Could the Braves pass the Phillies? Could the Blue Jays threaten the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox? Here's one more: Are the Reds a serious threat to the Cardinals in the National League Central. Cincinnati leads the division by one game heading into this week's series, which concludes with Reds at Cardinals, Wednesday night (8:15 EDT) at Busch Stadium . The Cardinals have three rookies in their rotation, but Chris Carpenter is their Wednesday starter. The Reds have two rookies in their rotation, and one of them is Wednesday starter Sam LeCure, who took Homer Bailey's spot when Bailey went on the disabled list.

And one more to watch: No, we didn't overlook Monday's Rockies-Giants game, which features a matchup of the guy who won the last two National League Cy Young Awards (Tim Lincecum) and the guy who has made himself a front-runner for the 2010 Cy Young (Ubaldo Jimenez). We left it out, only because first pitch is 4:05 EDT on Memorial Day Monday, and we worried that by the time you read this, you may already have missed it.

Posted on: April 18, 2010 9:20 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2010 3:28 pm

3 to watch: The 'I (almost) told you so' edition

If you checked in with 3 to watch on Friday, you knew to tune in for one of the games of the weekend, the marathon Mets' 20-inning win over the Cardinals on Saturday.

Not only that, but we told you about a young pitcher who people say "is going to throw a no-hitter some day." So what that we picked the wrong young pitcher (Brett Anderson instead of Ubaldo Jimenez)?

We won't forget Jimenez this week, in the newest edition of 3 to watch. Our only regret is that we can't make it 4 to watch, and thus include the expected debut of Mets first-base prospect Ike Davis, which reportedly will come sometime during the series against the Cubs.

1. The Phillies survived the first week of the season with Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero and Joe Blanton on the disabled list. They won three of the first four games that Jimmy Rollins missed with a calf injury that landed him on the DL, too. But now comes the news that J.A. Happ is bothered by stiffness in his left forearm, as first reported by Jim Salisbury of Comcast Philadelphia. So there's a lot of focus on Happ's next scheduled start, in Phillies at Braves, Wednesday (7:10 EDT) at Turner Field . Pitching depth is an issue for the Phils, so much so that Nelson Figueroa (cut in spring training by the Mets) is reportedly a top candidate to take Happ's place, if needed. This is a big series, regardless -- the first series of the year between the Phils and the Braves, the team that represents the biggest threat to Philadelphia's National League East dominance. MONDAY UPDATE: The Phillies announced that they will skip Happ's start, but that because of the off day they'll simply have Roy Halladay pitch Wednesday, with Jamie Moyer going Thursday. They now need a starting pitcher for Saturday's game in Arizona.

2. After the 1926 Yankees won their first five series of the season, they went to Philadelphia and were swept by the A's. Now the 2010 Yankees have won their first four series of the year (the first Yankee team since 1926 to do so), and guess who they get next? If history repeats, tune in for Yankees at A's, Thursday (3:35 EDT) at the Coliseum , to see the A's go for the sweep. The matchup Thursday is CC Sabathia (2-0) against Dallas Braden (2-0), but the real matchup this week is the Yankee lineup (69 runs in the first 12 games) against the A's pitching staff, which leads the league in both overall ERA (2.90) and rotation ERA (2.70).

3. OK, so we didn't tell you to watch Jimenez last Saturday against the Braves. And OK, it's an easy call to tell you to watch Jimenez's next start. We're telling you anyway: Rockies at Nationals, Thursday (4:35 EDT) at Nationals Park . We'll also tell you that in Jimenez's only other career start at Nationals Park, he allowed seven hits in eight innings of a 4-3 win.

Posted on: April 17, 2010 10:10 pm
Edited on: April 17, 2010 11:56 pm

That's how good he is

Last summer, Jim Tracy sat in a dugout in New York and said he wanted Ubaldo Jimenez to understand how good he can be.

This should help.

Tracy, the Rockies manager, said he wanted Jimenez to take the mound with the idea that he was going to go the distance.

"I tell him that when I give him the ball, I don't want him to give it back," Tracy said.

Tonight, Jimenez showed how good he can be. Tonight, when Tracy gave Jimenez the ball, Jimenez never did give it back.

The 26-year-old right-hander threw the first no-hitter in Rockies history. He walked six, and he needed 128 pitches, but in a 1-2-3 ninth inning, he was still throwing 98 mph.

Jimenez completed only two of his first 85 major league starts, in part because he had a tendency to throw too many pitches to last deep into a game. He threw 100 pitches in 4 1/3 innings last April in Los Angeles, and 92 pitches in just 2 2/3 innings last September in San Francisco.

But Jimenez is learning, and he's learning to be a winner. He won 15 games for the Rockies last year, and he joins Roy Halladay, Derek Lowe and Tim Lincecum as the only pitchers so far to win three straight starts to begin 2010.

Halladay has a Cy Young Award. Lincecum has won the National League Cy Young each of the last two years. Lowe doesn't own a Cy Young, but he has 144 career wins and a contract that pays him $15 million a season.

Halladay hasn't yet thrown a no-hitter. Neither has Lincecum. Lowe has one, eight years ago with the Red Sox.

And now Jimenez has one, too.

If he didn't know how good he can be before tonight, he sure should know it now.

Category: MLB
Posted on: March 9, 2010 7:04 pm
Edited on: March 9, 2010 7:06 pm

Goodbye Cactus, Hello Grapefruit

ORLANDO -- I've traded Aroldis Chapman for Stephen Strasburg, Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay, Angel Guzman for Joe Nathan, Los Sombreros in Scottsdale for Frenchy's in Clearwater, cactus for grapefruit.

After three weeks checking out the 15 teams in Arizona, I've checked out of Phoenix and touched down in Florida (and colleague Scott Miller has left Florida for the desert).

A few sights, thoughts and observations from half of spring training with half the teams:

-- Best story: It doesn't get much better than Chapman, whose name comes up in almost every Cactus League ballpark, whether the Reds are there or not. The other day in Mesa, scouts were debating whether he'd have signed for the same money if he was Dominican rather than Cuban. The consensus: Yes, he would have, because you just don't find left-handed starters who throw 100 mph.

-- Best team: The White Sox, whose road to an American League Central title got a little easier with today's news about Twins closer Joe Nathan. Other impressive teams: The Rockies, the Mariners and the Angels.

-- Worst team: The Indians, even though prospects Carlos Santana ("another Victor Martinez") and Lonnie Chisenhall are getting great reviews.

-- Player who looks the most different: With apologies to Andruw Jones and Geovany Soto, it has to be Matt Stairs, barely recognizable after losing 37 pounds. "When you get to Clearwater, tell [Shane] Victorino that I'm smaller than him," Stairs requested. And we will. Oh, and give credit to Jones and Soto, who both seem to have taken conditioning seriously over the winter.

-- Team that has the most fun: Apologies to the Rockies and the Brewers, but it's got to be the Mariners. Just the sight of Felix Hernandez serving as bat boy in the M's intrasquad game (with "BB" taped over the number on his back) was all the proof I needed.

-- Strangest sight: Walking through the abandoned White Sox clubhouse building in Tucson for the Diamondbacks' Justin Upton press conference. The Sox moved to Glendale last year, but the doors to the empty clubhouse still have Sox logos on them. Next year, all of Tucson will be a baseball ghost town, but for now, it's just half of Tucson Electric Park.

-- Best quote: A tie between Torii Hunter and Ozzie Guillen. Torii on losing to the Yankees in the playoffs: "I couldn't stand up. All I want now is the ring. Not a gold glove. Not the Hall of Fame. My satisfaction would be winning the World Series. If I get that, I'm passing out on the field." Ozzie on whether Lou Piniella will manage past 2010: "They keep paying you, why go see your family every day? We need people like Lou in this game. Lou is what . . . just 65? I thought he was 78."
Posted on: November 18, 2009 2:42 pm
Edited on: November 18, 2009 3:05 pm

Manager of the Year (except October), Part II

The system still needs changing.

I have absolutely no problem with the two Manager of the Year winners this year. In fact, my votes would have gone to the two winners, Mike Scioscia in the American League and Jim Tracy in the National League.

But the system needs changing, as I wrote at this time last year . Alone among the four major awards voted on by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, the Manager of the Year is the one that needs to be decided after the postseason ends, and not before it begins.

In the modern-baseball world, with a three-tiered playoff system, a manager's job doesn't end on Oct. 1. And in a modern world, Charlie Manuel deserves credit for getting the Phillies to back-to-back World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Had the voting been held after the postseason in 2008, Manuel no doubt would have won over Lou Piniella, whose Cubs crashed out of the playoffs in three games. Instead, Manuel finished second.

Even with a post-postseason vote this year, Tracy might have beaten Manuel (and in my mind, rightfully so). But you can be sure Manuel would have finished higher than sixth.

I understand the voting. At the time the votes were due, all we knew about Manuel was that his Phillies had survived a worse-than-expected race in the National League East. The Phillies finished with only one more win than the Rockies, who rallied to a 92-70 finish, after Tracy took over when the team was 18-28 in late May.

The 74-42 finish made Tracy the Manager of the Year, and rightfully so. Getting to the playoffs in 2009 was a huge accomplishment by the Rockies, even though they lost to Manuel's Phillies in their first-round series.

And yet, Tracy understands that baseball in 2009 is also about October (and now, November).

"You're always going to have this empty feeling we had after Game 4, unless you play the last game, and win it," Tracy said. "To end up coming up short, that's quite a punch in the gut.

"I would trade this award to be in Charlie's shoes, I guarantee you that."

Posted on: September 11, 2009 11:59 am

Watching the weekend (baseball style)

The pennant races aren’t close, and it’s the first full football weekend. You’re excused if your mind isn’t totally on baseball right now.

That’s what we’re here for, to keep you up on what you have to know. So here’s what to look for in your limited non-football time this weekend:

1. Derek’s big night (or big day): No, it’s not nearly as big a deal as the New York media has made it into. But Derek Jeter needs one more hit to pass Lou Gehrig for the Yankees’ all-time record, and it figures to be a pretty cool moment at Yankee Stadium when he gets it. Jeter has hit safely in 12 of his 15 games against the Orioles this year. He’s never faced Chris Tillman, who starts tonight, or Brian Matusz, who starts Saturday.

2. The Giants and Dodgers: The Giants, now four games behind the Rockies, can’t afford to lose to the Dodgers. The Dodgers, now just two games ahead of the Rockies, can’t afford to lose to the Giants. Oh, and of course, everyone in San Francisco hates the Dodgers -- including Brad Penny, the ex-Dodger who starts for the Giants on Sunday. Should be fun.

3. The Rockies road: Colorado took charge of the wild-card race with a 9-1 homestand, but now the Rockies start on a three-city road trip. Worth noting: The Rox are 9-10 on their last three trips. Also worth noting: Top starter Ubaldo Jimenez has been scratched from a Saturday start in San Diego, because of a sore left hamstring. The good news: Jimenez should be able to start Tuesday in San Francisco. One last Rockies note: With the three games in San Francisco, three later on in Los Angeles and three at home against the Cardinals, the Rockies don’t have the easiest of schedules the rest of the way.

4. At home in the Central: The Twins are a bad road team. The Tigers are worse. And the White Sox aren’t too good away from home, either. Keep that in mind this weekend, as the Tigers begin a seven-game homestand against the Blue Jays and Royals, and the Twins begin a nine-game homestand against the A’s, Indians and Tigers. Meanwhile, the White Sox head back out to the West Coast to play the Angels.

5. What about the Rangers? Will Josh Hamilton return tonight? Will Michael Young come back next week? Will the Texas pitching hold up? Are the Rangers a real threat to either the Red Sox or Angels? Texas opens a nine-game homestand tonight against the Mariners, so maybe we’ll start getting some answers.
Posted on: June 24, 2009 1:54 pm
Edited on: June 24, 2009 1:58 pm

Brewers optimistic about Parra

In his first start after the Brewers sent him to the minor leagues, Manny Parra was throwing 84-87 mph and was so unimpressive that one person watching said, "They announced Manny Parra, but it sure didn't look like him."

But Parra rebounded well Tuesday night, going seven innings and allowing just one run for Nashville against an Albuquerque team that featured that other Manny (who, by the way, struck out and grounded out against Parra). The Brewers were encouraged enough that they now think Parra could rejoin their rotation within the next few weeks.

Brewers people hope Parra could follow the same path as Ricky Nolasco, the Marlins opening day starter who seemed to be helped by his two Triple-A starts. Nolasco, who had a 9.07 ERA when he was sent down, has a 2.50 ERA in three starts since returning, including a win at Fenway Park.

The Brewers have made it this far into the season using only five starting pitchers. That will change when Parra's spot comes up on Saturday (the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that Seth McClung is the leading candidate for that spot). The Brewers will also need to fill Dave Bush's spot, with Bush now on the disabled list.


While many people in baseball believe that the Nationals should give Mike Rizzo the full-time job as general manager, the team has continued to look at other options, and some people are saying that the Nats owners want "a big name." The Nationals contacted Gerry Hunsicker, the former Astros GM who now works for Tampa Bay, but it appears that he doesn't want the job.

One name that has circulated: Jed Hoyer, who now works as Theo Epstein's assistant in Boston.

Meanwhile, other teams are wondering how much freedom Rizzo has to make trades. The Nationals have spoken to many teams about Nick Johnson, and to a few about Adam Dunn.


While the Rockies' slow start cost manager Clint Hurdle his job, their strong rebound is good news for general manager Dan O'Dowd, whose job now seems much more secure.

The Rockies' rebound has a few other effects, notably allowing other teams to believe that they could make the same sort of move back into the race. The Rockies themselves are no longer seen as a July seller, although sources said they're still trying to move Garrett Atkins.

The problem is that Atkins has a .206 batting average and has also regressed defensively.

"He can't play first base," one scout said. "And he can't play third base, either."


Without Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, the Mets lineup is awful, and they know it. Asked Tuesday night if we should expect more games like Tuesday's (a two-hit Joel Pineiro shutout) or like Monday's (a scrappy 6-4 win), manager Jerry Manuel answered honestly: "That's a good question."

The Mets expect to get all of their injured players back at some point this season, but they can't say exactly when on any of them. While they say there's a chance Beltran (bruised knee) could miss just two weeks, GM Omar Minaya said the All-Star break could be a safer bet.

"If you told me right now we'd have him to start the second half, I'd sign up for that," Minaya said.


Good line from 2,501-win man Tony La Russa, when asked what qualities make a good manager.

"Outstanding players," said La Russa, a fine manager who has also been blessed with many outstanding players.


Among all the impressive Albert Pujols stats, how about this one: In six plate appearances this year with the bases loaded, Pujols is 5 for 5 with three home runs and a sacrifice fly. In those six plate appearances, he has 16 RBIs (out of a possible 24).

For his career, Pujols is a .411 hitter with the bases loaded.

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