Posted on: August 20, 2010 1:57 am
Edited on: August 20, 2010 9:09 pm

3 to watch: The Legends of the dugout edition

Between them, they've managed nearly 8,000 major-league games. But do you want to guess how many games Bobby Cox and Lou Piniella have managed against each other?

It's not as many as you think. Only 81, with three more coming this weekend in Chicago -- presumably the final three, with both Cox and Piniella saying they'll retire at the end of the season.

The tally so far, according to research through baseball-reference.com , has Cox with 41 wins and Piniella with 40. They've never met in the playoffs, even though Cox went to the postseason 15 times with the Blue Jays and Braves, and Piniella made it to October seven times with the Reds, Mariners and Cubs.

Cox, whose Braves lead the Phillies by 2 1/2 games in the National League East, has another chance at the postseason this year. Piniella, whose Cubs are 22 games under .500, has a chance to go home when the regular season ends on Oct. 3.

And that, of course, is why Derrek Lee agreed to leave Piniella and join Cox, approving the trade that gave the Braves their new first baseman. The trade was finalized while Lee was sitting in the Cubs dugout during their Wednesday loss to the Padres, and Lee's first game for the Braves will be Friday afternoon against the Cubs.

"I told him to go get his uniform off, he wasn't on our team anymore and I didn't want him stealing our signs," Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster joked with reporters after the game. Dempster will be the first Cubs pitcher to face Lee, as he's the starter Friday. "He started trying to bribe me and asked me how I was going to pitch certain hitters. Sneaky dog."

On to 3 to watch:

1. According to Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News , the Giants sent playoff ticket invoices to their season ticket holders this week. As Baggarly said, incredibly bad timing, with the Giants falling six games behind the Padres in the National League West, and dropping out of the wild-card lead, as well. It doesn't help that ace Tim Lincecum has been pitching poorly, and it may not help Lincecum that his next start comes against Chris Carpenter, in Giants at Cardinals, Saturday night (7:15 ET) at Busch Stadium . A year ago, Lincecum against Carpenter would have been a Cy Young elimination battle. Now, with the Cards falling 3 1/2 games behind the Reds in the NL Central, it looks more like a wild-card elimination battle.

2. The Braves have the worst road record (27-33) of any team that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. With the Phillies getting healthy and hot, that may need to change if Cox is going to get that going-away postseason gift. This weekend against the struggling Cubs would be a good place to start. We'll know by the time Mike Minor faces Randy Wells, in Braves at Cubs, Sunday afternoon (2:20 ET) at Wrigley Field .

3. No matter how good or bad the teams out West are, East Coast teams always seem to fear West Coast trips, especially late in the season. Sure enough, the Rays lost the first game of their current seven-game trip to the coast, falling to the A's, 4-3, on Thursday night. The Rays are actually 6-4 on the Coast this season, but they're 16-19 since the start of 2008 (basically, since they've been good). The big game this weekend is the matchup of Dallas Braden and Matt Garza, in Rays at A's, Sunday afternoon (4:07 ET) at the Coliseum , in a matchup of two of the five pitchers who have thrown no-hitters this season.

Posted on: July 9, 2010 12:55 am
Edited on: July 9, 2010 6:20 pm

3 to watch: The It takes (more than) 2 edition

So maybe the Mariners did just fine.

Maybe Justin Smoak and the prospects they got from the Rangers are better than the three players they gave the Phillies for Cliff Lee.

But let's remember, that was never the idea. The idea was that by teaming Lee with Felix Hernandez, the M's would have an unbeatable 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation.

That idea didn't work.

For five weeks now, the M's started Lee and Hernandez in back-to-back games. For five weeks now, Lee and Hernandez were nearly unbeatable, with a combined 10-2 record and 1.98 ERA -- with five complete games.

And for those five weeks, the Mariners have still been well below .500.

They won most of the games that Lee and Hernandez started (11 of 16). They lost almost every game with anyone else on the mound (18 of 23).

And they went from 7 1/2 games out of first place in the American League West to 16 games out of first place.

It didn't work, which is exactly why Lee is on the way out of town. He could still win the AL West, but it would be for the Rangers, not the Mariners.

As for the Yankees, the team that thought it was winning the Lee trade sweepstakes (and remains the favorite in this winter's Lee free-agent sweepstakes), all they get is the pleasure of not facing the Lee-Hernandez duo this weekend at Safeco Field. They could face Lee in August in Texas, and maybe in September in Texas, too.

Oh, and they could face Lee in October.

On to this final pre-All-Star edition of 3 to watch:

1. If the All-Star Game is about rewarding players who have performed the best in the first half of the season, then Stephen Strasburg doesn't belong. If it's about putting on the best show for the fans, it's hard to see how Strasburg doesn't belong. Think of it this way: When I tell you that Strasburg will be the starting pitcher in Giants at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 EDT) at Nationals Park , does that make you want to tune in and watch? Thought so.

2. Instead of facing the first-place Yankees Friday night in Seattle, Lee will get last-place Baltimore, probably in Orioles at Rangers, Saturday night (8:05 EDT) at Rangers Ballpark . Lucky Orioles. They've never beaten Lee in five tries, and already lost to him once this year. Of course, Lee has beaten the Yankees five of the last six times he has faced them, including twice in the World Series and once last month in New York. Meanwhile, the Yankees get Seattle's David Pauley, who lost both his starts against them when he pitched for the Red Sox.

3. So the way we understand this, the American League isn't going to replace CC Sabathia on the American League All-Star team until he actually starts Sunday's game in Seattle. Then, according to what AL manager Joe Girardi told reporters this week, he'll pick Jered Weaver to replace Sabathia on the roster. Which is nice, except that Weaver will then himself need to be replaced on the roster, because he's scheduled to start in Angels at A's, Sunday (4:05 EDT) at the Coliseum . Oh, and Trevor Cahill, the A's representative on the All-Star team, will need to be replaced, too, because he's pitching Sunday, too. Maybe Girardi can pick Zack Greinke (no, he's pitching Sunday!) or Carl Pavano (no, he's pitching Sunday!). Or maybe he'll find someone who actually will be eligible to pitch for him on Tuesday.

Posted on: July 4, 2010 4:54 pm
Edited on: July 4, 2010 5:15 pm

3 to watch: The Scene of the crime edition

The last time the Giants were in Milwaukee, Prince Fielder hit a walkoff home run, his teammates fell down like bowling pins, and the Giants got so upset they still haven't forgotten it.

The last time the Yankees were in Oakland, Alex Rodriguez ran across Dallas Braden's mound, Braden got upset, and a week later Braden's grandmother told A-Rod to "stick it."

So now it's July, and the Giants are back in Milwaukee, and the Yankees are back in Oakland.

Which no doubt means that Prince and A-Rod will be back in the news this week. But for what?

With Prince, the questions will be whether the Brewers should trade him right now, and how interested the Giants should be in trying to trade for him (or, perhaps, for Brewers outfielder Corey Hart).

The teams have talked in the past, but the Giants' reluctance to part with any of their big-time pitchers was always a big sticking point. Of course, that's the same sticking point that has kept the Giants from acquiring any significant hitter these last few years, which in turn has kept them from first place in the National League West.

In any case, the Giants could sure use Fielder, so much so that they'd have no problem overlooking the celebration they hated so much last September. When Andy Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News asked Barry Zito about Fielder , Zito answered, "There's a ton of guys in the league we hate to play against, but we'd love to play with."

Remember, Zito is the guy who threw at Fielder this spring in Arizona, a payback for the bowling-pin display last September.

There's no chance of A-Rod getting traded to the A's -- his $32 million salary would cover more than half the Oakland payroll. And there's no chance he'll run across Braden's mound -- the A's lefty is on the disabled list.

So if we're talking A-Rod this week, we're more likely talking the run to 600 home runs. Rodriguez is at 595 right now, which means it's unlikely but not impossible that he'll get to 600 in Oakland.

For the record, Rodriguez has hit 19 career home runs in 86 games at the Coliseum. He hasn't hit more than one home run in a series in Oakland since 2004, and hasn't ever hit more than three in any series at the Coliseum.

On to 3 to watch:

1. If the Phillies are going to survive all their injuries, you'd think they would need to win every game that Roy Halladay starts. Instead, they've struggled to score runs for Halladay, and thus they're 3-7 in his last 10 starts. They get another chance, in Braves at Phillies, Monday night (7:05 EDT) at Citizens Bank Park .

2. No one remembers it now, but the A-Rod/Braden game back in April was a Yankee loss, and a CC Sabathia loss. And while Braden won't pitch in this week's series, Sabathia will, in Yankees at A's, Tuesday night (10:05 EDT) at the Coliseum . He pitched well in that April start, allowing just four hits in an eight-inning complete game (a 4-2 A's win), but for his career, Sabathia is 2-5 with a 5.95 ERA in 10 starts in what is basically his hometown ballpark.

3. Zito has just one win in his last nine starts (and a 5.30 ERA in that span), so he'll have more on his mind than just Fielder, in Giants at Brewers, Thursday afternoon (2:10 EDT) at Miller Park . For the record, Fielder is just 2 for 12 against Zito in his career, although one of the two hits was a home run.

Posted on: May 14, 2010 10:05 am
Edited on: May 14, 2010 10:09 am

3 to watch: The this isn't perfect edition

In the 1044 days since July 4, 2007, the Twins have won a division title and gone to a 163rd game before losing another. They've had a player win an MVP, and they've moved outdoors.

And they've won exactly zero games in New York City.

Not in the old Yankee Stadium. Not in the new Yankee Stadium.

Not in the regular season. Not in the postseason.

You might say they've been perfect -- or perfectly frustrated, given the way their two visits went last year.

In May: A 5-4 loss in which the Yankees scored three times off Joe Nathan in the ninth, a 6-4 loss in which Alex Rodriguez homered off Craig Breslow in the 11th, a 3-2 loss in which Johnny Damon homered off Jesse Crain in the 10th and a 7-6 loss in which the Yankees scored six times in the first.

In October: A 7-2 loss in Game 1, and then an excruciating 4-3, 11-inning loss in a Game 2 that included A-Rod's ninth-inning homer off Nathan, Mark Teixeira's game-winning home run in the 11th off Jose Mijares, and also Phil Cuzzi's mistaken call taking a double away from Joe Mauer.

Perfect, huh?

Speaking of which, Dallas Braden and Mark Buehrle both take to the mound tonight, leading off this edition of 3 to watch:

1. It's been 295 days since Buehrle's perfecto against the Rays, and while he hasn't been winless in that time, he hasn't been anywhere near perfect, either. He's 4-11 in 20 starts, with a 4.85 ERA. The White Sox have lost the last five times he's gone to the mound. They'll try again, in White Sox at Royals, Friday night (8:10 EDT) at Kauffman Stadium , a game which will also be Ned Yost's debut as Royals manager. Good news for the Sox: They've won six of Buehrle's last seven starts against the Royals.

2. As colleague Scott Miller detailed yesterday, Braden seems to have enjoyed the four days since he made history against the Rays. (He's certainly enjoyed it more than Buehrle has enjoyed the last 295 days.) He'll make his first start as a major celebrity tonight in Anaheim, against an Angels team he beat in April, but lost to in all three starts last year. It's A's at Angels, Friday night (10:05 EDT) at Angels Stadium .

3. Andy Pettitte hasn't thrown a perfect game in any of his 464 career starts. But he was perfect enough for the Yankees last October and November, winning the clinching game in all three postseason series. The Twins will remember the first of those, a 4-1 win that closed out the Metrodome in Game 3. Pettitte hasn't even lost a regular season game to the Twins since April 30, 2001, when he threw an eight-inning complete game at the Metrodome, and lost 2-1 to Brad Radke. Pettitte will be the focus again, in Twins at Yankees, Saturday afternoon (1:05 EDT) at Yankee Stadium , because he hasn't pitched since leaving his April 5 start (and win) against the Orioles because of inflammation in his left elbow.

Posted on: May 10, 2010 12:37 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2010 1:00 pm

Perfect oddities

Maybe it's just coincidence. Or maybe not.

Not only have the Rays been the victim in the last two perfect games thrown in the major leagues -- last year by Mark Buehrle, Sunday by Dallas Braden -- but both came in afternoon games on getaway day.

In fact, St. Petersburg Times beat writer Marc Topkin suggested something less than coincidence when he speculated in his game story that Sunday's performance might have had something to do with "having Saturday night off in San Francisco."

So you wonder, is that why five of the last nine perfect games thrown in the major leagues were on Sundays (in Oakland, New York (twice), Los Angeles and Texas) -- and that six of the last nine were in day games?

And you wonder, what is it about lefties? Five of the last six perfect games have been thrown by left-handers: Braden, Buehrle, Randy Johnson, David Wells and Kenny Rogers (with David Cone the lone righty in the group).

Maybe it's just coincidence. Or maybe not.

Two more thoughts on the perfect game:

Not surprisingly, the Rays had the best record (22-8) of any team to have a perfect game thrown against them. Only two teams that were victims of perfect games have gone made it to the postseason in the same year (excluding the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers, who had a perfect game thrown against them in the World Series). The two? The 2004 Braves (Randy Johnson), who lost in the first round of the playoffs, and the 1988 Dodgers (Tom Browning), who won the World Series.

And to echo what colleague Scott Miller wrote Sunday, what a great job by Comcast Sports Net California, and especially by announcers Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse. Instead of adhering to the silly notion that they might jinx history by doing their job and mentioning it, Kuiper and Fosse set the scene perfectly -- and in doing so, proved once again that announcers don't jinx no-hitters (or perfect games).

(And, on A's radio, Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo also told listeners that Braden was working on a perfect game.)

In fact, in the most famous perfect game call of all, Vin Scully began the ninth inning by saying right away that Sandy Koufax was pitching a perfect game. When Koufax got it by striking out Harvey Kuenn, Scully let the crowd reaction play for 38 seconds, then said, "On the scoreboard in right field it is 9:46 p.m. in the City of the Angels, Los Angeles, California."

Yes, it was a night game.

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 16, 2010 10:05 am

3 to watch: The 'In trouble already?' edition

The headline in the New York Daily News reads, "Mets may have to call Bobby," as in Valentine. The Baltimore Sun says, "Listless Orioles lose 7th straight" and "Too early to panic?"

The season isn't even two weeks old. On this day a year ago, the Angels were in last place (as they are today). And the Blue Jays were in first place (as they are today).

With those thoughts in mind, here's the weekend edition of 3 to watch, focusing on teams with trouble (and maybe teams in trouble):

1. When Johan Santana lost to Livan Hernandez last Sunday, Jerry Manuel called his Mets "unprepared," setting off the latest frenzy about his future as manager. So imagine what happens if Santana loses to 23-year-old Jaime Garcia, in Mets at Cardinals, Saturday afternoon (3:10 EDT) at Busch Stadium.  One thing to watch: While Santana is undoubtedly the Mets ace and sole dependable starter, scouts say he isn't the pitcher he once was. The velocity on the fastball just hasn't been there. "If you took away the [uniform] number, he looks like just another pitcher," one scout said after watching Santana last week.

2. The Orioles had signs of trouble in spring training, when Brian Roberts got hurt, closer Mike Gonzalez looked terrible and observers complained that too few of the Oriole players approached the game with a professional attitude. Now both Roberts and Gonzalez are on the disabled list, the O's have one win, and general manager Andy MacPhail is answering questions about manager Dave Trembley's future. One scout who spent last week in Baltimore came away convinced that this team is certain to finish in last place. The one bright spot? Young starter Brian Matusz, and in Orioles at Athletics, Sunday afternoon (4:05 EDT) at the Coliseum , Matusz meets up with Brett Anderson in a matchup of two of the most exciting young lefties in the game. As we told you this spring, A's people believe that Anderson is going to throw a no-hitter some day. The way the O's are going, is this the day?

3. We're cheating here, because the Rays and Red Sox aren't in trouble. But the Yankees have looked good enough out of the gate that it's fair to wonder if Tampa Bay and Boston will eventually be fighting over one playoff spot. The Rays and Red Sox meet for the first four of 18 times this weekend, and we'll pick Rays at Red Sox, Sunday afternoon (1:35 EDT) at Fenway Park , because of the matchup of Jon Lester and Matt Garza. They met twice in the 2008 ALCS, with Garza besting Lester both times. But Garza had an advantage then, with David Price available out of the bullpen to close Game 7. Now Price is in the rotation, Rafael Soriano is Tampa Bay's closer, and one scout who watched Soriano last week said, "Terrible. I'd love to hit against him. He's fastball-slider, and he's guaranteed to make a mistake with the slider."
Posted on: March 5, 2010 4:18 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2010 5:12 pm

Sheets: 'I thought it went great'

PHOENIX -- For now, judge Ben Sheets by his comments, and not by his numbers.

The numbers for Sheets in his A's spring debut weren't great: Pitching against the Brewers, his former team, he went 1 2/3 innings, giving up 4 hits, 2 runs, 1 earned, with 4 2-0 counts in just 9 batters faced. But let's remember, Sheets had a 9.56 Cactus League ERA in 2008, then began the season 10-3 with a 2.85 ERA and started the All-Star Game for the National League.

So what matters more than the numbers is Sheets' belief that his surgically repaired right elbow feels fine, and that it's getting stronger. What matters is that after missing the entire 2009 season, he was able to take the mound on schedule for his first spring start.

"I thought it went great," Sheets said. "I've heard people who had elbow surgery say it takes 18 months. It's 13 or 14 months now for me. I can tell every day I'm getting better."

So can the hitters.

"Considering where he's been, I thought he looked great," said Ryan Braun, who singled off his ex-teammate in the first inning. "Same guy. Signature Sheets curveball. That's how he normally looks."

Asked how he'd feel if Sheets were pitching for his team and he saw him throw like this the first time out, Braun said, "I'd be thrilled."

Sheets seemed thrilled. He also insisted there was "zero bad blood" between him and the Brewers, at least not over Milwaukee's decision not to try harder to re-sign him after 2008. He said that he didn't blame general manager Doug Melvin, saying Melvin was in a no-win situation.

There is one point of contention between Sheets and the Brewers, one that still seems to irk him. When he needed surgery last winter, the Brewers argued that they shouldn't pay for it, because he was already a free agent by that point.

In any case, Sheets seems extremely happy to be with the A's, who signed him for $10 million. While many in baseball expect the A's to trade Sheets at midseason if he remains healthy and pitches well, Sheets talks of helping the team contend.

"Doesn't everybody think about playing for the Oakland A's?" he asked, with a smile.

Sheets also smiled when someone pointed out that the Brewers have given his old number to Jim Edmonds. Edmonds, who also last played in 2008, singled off Sheets in the first inning.

"All that number does is hit," he said. "Cecil Cooper, Ben Sheets, now Jim Edmonds."

He wasn't serious when he said that. Sheets' career OPS is .196, and he struck out 204 times in 433 at-bats.

We'll assume he was serious when he said he feels great. For Sheets and for the A's, that was the most important news today.

Category: MLB
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