Posted on: June 8, 2011 11:51 am
Edited on: June 8, 2011 12:38 pm

Yet another 2008 draftee reaches majors

The Indians called up Cord Phelps Wednesday morning, which in itself isn't earth-shattering news, except for him and his family.

Phelps was being used at multiple positions at Triple-A Columbus, moving around so that the Indians could focus on top infield prospects Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Phelps wasn't one of the Indians' very top prospects himself, not even landing in the top 10 on Baseball America's winter list. He was hitting .299 at Columbus, with an impressive 40 RBI, and he's in the big leagues because second baseman Orlando Cabrera and third baseman Jack Hannahan have been struggling of late.

He's in the Indians' lineup in Cabrera's place for Wednesday's afternoon game against the Twins, and reports out of Cleveland say he'll likely play second base with some regularity against right-handed pitchers.

He's also the first Indians player from the 2008 draft to make it to the big leagues, and that's what caught my attention, because that '08 draft is starting to shape up as one of baseball's best.

Think of the players from the '08 draft who are already established in the big leagues: Buster Posey, Craig Kimbrel, Gordon Beckham, Eric Hosmer, Brian Matusz, Ike Davis, Alex Avila, Daniel Hudson, Danny Espinosa, Justin Smoak, Brett Wallace, Andrew Cashner, Pedro Alvarez, Aaron Crow -- and there are more, including Brandon Crawford, the shortstop just called up by the Giants, Jemile Weeks, the second baseman just called up by the A's, and Brett Lawrie, the third baseman expected to be called up by the Blue Jays any day now.

The 2008 draft included Smoak, who was traded for Cliff Lee; Lawrie, who was traded for Shaun Marcum; and Jake Odorizzi, who was traded for Zack Greinke.

It also included Gerrit Cole, who didn't sign with the Yankees, and went on to become the top pick in this week's draft.

Not bad for one draft. It doesn't yet match the 2005 draft, when the first round included Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen and Jay Bruce. But give it time.

Phelps is also the third player from Stanford's 2008 team to reach the big leagues, joining Drew Storen and Jason Castro.

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 27, 2011 10:05 am
Edited on: May 27, 2011 11:09 am

3 to Watch: The King defends his crown edition

It's been a quiet start to the season for Felix Hernandez. Even the talk that he'll be traded seems to have died down, either because of the Mariners' continued strong denials, his own declarations of how happy he is in Seattle or the team's decent start to the season.

Meanwhile, as of now Hernandez isn't even in the top 10 in the American League ERA race. He leads the league in strikeouts and he's third in innings pitched, but if the Cy Young vote were held today, he'd barely receive a vote.

And none of that means he won't repeat his title.

Through 11 starts, Hernandez actually has better numbers than he did at this point last year. He's 5-4 with a 3.01 ERA, as compared to 2-4 with a 3.50 ERA through his first 11 starts of 2010.

Last year, the Mariners were held to one run or none in three of his first four losses. This year, they've been held to no runs, one run and two runs in three of his first four losses.

And that means this Saturday's start against the Yankees is King Felix's biggest of the year so far.

The strongest voices against Hernandez in last year's Cy debate weren't the ones complaining about his so-so 13-12 record. Rather, they were the ones complaining that he didn't pitch in important games, and pitched in the weak-hitting American League West.

The strongest counter-argument was Hernandez's record against the Yankees. He won all three of his starts against New York, allowing just one run on 16 hits in 26 innings.

As Felix defenders have said all along, the bigger the stage, the better he pitched.

The stage isn't huge this weekend, but the Yankees are the highest-scoring team in the American League. The Mariners are playing so well (and the division is so weak) that they're just 1 1/2 games out of first place.

It's a late-night Saturday start, but it's still the Yankees, and it still would be a great place for Hernandez to launch his reelection campaign.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Every day, it seems, I talk to another baseball person who mentions how unimpressive the Indians were in spring training, and how shocking it is that they still have the best record in baseball. But they do, and they even survived Grady Sizemore's latest trip to the disabled list, with Sizemore expected to return this weekend. Still, the doubters are going to doubt, and wonder if this is the week the Indians' collapse begins. Coming off two straight home losses to the Red Sox, they now get Tampa Bay's two best starters, beginning with David Price in Indians at Rays, Friday night (7:10 ET) at Tropicana Field. Josh Tomlin, who is 6-1 and has held opponents to a .182 batting average, starts for the Indians.

2. Even with Buster Posey, the Giants have scored the fewest runs in the National League. Even with Buster Posey, the Giants' margin of error has been slim, their first-place record built largely on a 14-5 record in one-run games. Now the Giants don't have Posey, and they go on the road to face a Brewers team that is finally healthy and has won six straight and 13 of 16. The good news for the Giants: They open the series with Tim Lincecum on the mound, in Giants at Brewers, Friday night (8:10 ET) at Miller Park. The bad news: The Brewers starter is Shawn Marcum, who has won his last six decisions.

3. Hernandez hasn't even been the most-talked-about starter in his own rotation, which he shares with 22-year-old Michael Pineda. Pineda looks great, and his start against the Yankees on Friday is worth watching, too. But Felix is still the King, and that puts Yankees at Mariners, Saturday night (10:10 ET) at Safeco Field on this list.

Posted on: May 26, 2011 1:32 pm
Edited on: May 26, 2011 1:39 pm

Sizemore 'more than likely' rejoining Indians

Grady Sizemore isn't back with the Indians yet. But he's almost back.

The Indians cleared a spot on their roster Thursday by optioning Ezequiel Carrera to Triple-A Columbus. They didn't immediately activate Sizemore from the disabled list, but did announce that he will "more than likely" be activated sometime during this weekend's series at Tampa Bay.

Sizemore last played on May 10, and he's on the disabled list with a bruised right knee. According to reports in Cleveland, Sizemore ran the bases before Wednesday's game.

The surprising Indians have gone 7-6 in Sizemore's absence, but they still own baseball's best record, at 30-17.

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 22, 2011 9:07 pm

3 to Watch: The Halladay (and Wood) edition

When Roy Halladay threw nine shutout innings against the Reds last July, he didn't get a win -- because of Travis Wood.

When Halladay threw his playoff no-hitter against the Reds last October, the guy who came closest to getting a hit was Travis Wood.

So how perfect is it that when Halladay goes against the Reds on Wednesday night, for the first time since that playoff no-hitter, his mound opponent that night will be . . . Travis Wood?

It's a big week at Citizens Bank Park, if only because Chase Utley will join the Phillies lineup for the first time on Monday night. But the highlight of the week's schedule comes two nights later, with Roy Halladay against Travis Wood.

When they met in that game last July 10, Wood took a perfect game into the ninth inning, when Carlos Ruiz broke it up with a leadoff double. Halladay allowed five hits that night, in the first game since 2002 where both starting pitchers carried a shutout through nine innings (it happened again earlier this month, with Seattle's Jason Vargas and Baltimore's Zach Britton).

It was a little shocking to see a pitcher come that close to a perfect game against the Phillies.

And it was truly shocking to see a pitcher throw a no-hitter in the playoffs, against a Reds team that had scored the most runs in the National League last year.

Or maybe it wasn't, given how good Halladay looked that night.

"It's not fun being up there trying to hit nothing," Joey Votto said.

And, yes, Wood was the guy who came closest to a hit. Right fielder Jayson Werth had to slide to catch Wood's sinking line drive in the third inning.

Wood didn't start that game for the Reds. He took over for Edinson Volquez in the second inning. And just as he did in that game in July, he held the Phillies without a run and gave up just one hit (in 3 1/3 innings).

Wednesday, he and the Reds get another chance.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Does it surprise you that a year after hitting 54 home runs, Jose Bautista is actually ahead of his 2010 pace? Does it surprise you that Curtis Granderson is second in the major leagues in home runs, behind only Bautista? OK, well does it surprise you that Granderson has hit more home runs on the road than at home, at the famous Yankee Stadium bandbox? Or that Bautista has hit more home runs at Target Field than at Yankee Stadium, in a lot fewer games? Maybe Granderson and Bautista can do something about that this week, starting with Blue Jays at Yankees, Monday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium. And, speaking of surprises, Bartolo Colon is the Yankees starter.

2. When the Red Sox got swept in Cleveland the first week of the season, we were shocked that the Sox could be off to such a bad start. And we totally ignored the possibility that the Indians were good. Maybe they're not, but seven weeks later, the Indians still have a better record than the Red Sox -- and everyone else in the game. And now here we are again, with Red Sox at Indians, Monday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field. We'll notice the Indians this time, especially if Justin Masterson beats the Red Sox again. He's 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA against them since going to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez trade.

3. On that night that Wood carried a perfect game into the ninth inning, the Reds lost to the Phillies, 1-0 in 11 innings. No surprise. The Reds have lost their last eight games in Philadelphia, and 13 of their last 15, heading into the series that includes Reds at Phillies, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Halladay didn't start all of those games -- but he will start this one.

Posted on: May 20, 2011 3:20 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2011 3:32 pm

Indians put Hafner on DL

Travis Hafner has joined Grady Sizemore on the Indians' disabled list.

Hafner has already missed two games with a strained right oblique. The surprising Indians lost both those games in Chicago, although they still have the best record in the major leagues, at 26-15.

Hafner, coming off three subpar seasons, has been a big part of Cleveland's revival. In 32 games, he has hit .345 with five home runs and 22 RBI.

The Indians called up outfielder Ezequiel Carrera from Triple-A Columbus. They also called up pitcher Frank Herrmann, and sent infielder Luis Valbuena to Columbus.

Sizemore has been out since May 10 with a knee injury. The Indians have gone 3-4 in the first seven games he has missed.

The Indians are entering a particularly tough part of their schedule. They host the first-place Reds this weekend, and follow that with series against the Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays and Rangers.
Posted on: May 19, 2011 9:54 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2011 11:05 am

3 to Watch: The Finally in Fenway edition

I love that the Cubs are visiting Fenway Park this weekend for the first time since the 1918 World Series. I love that the teams will wear 1918 replica uniforms on Saturday night (although I hate that Fox will insist that 68 percent of the country can't watch that game, no matter how much we pay for the MLB cable package, the MLB iPad app or the MLB iPhone app).

I love that Bill Buckner is going to call Friday night's Cubs-Red Sox game on WGN television. I love that some people, including Evan Brunell of our own Eye on Baseball team, are speculating that the Cubs threw that 1918 World Series.

I just think it's ridiculous that it took this long.

Way back in 1997, interleague play was sold as a way for fans in all the game's cities to see all the game's stars. Once every six years, we were told, you'd get at least one chance to see every team in baseball.

It's so long ago that people in Detroit were actually looking forward to seeing Barry Bonds in person.

So now here we are, in Year 15 of interleague play, and the Cubs are finally getting to Boston? Now here we are, in Year 15 of interleague play, and this weekend the Astros are going to Toronto for the first time?

And now here we are, in Year 15 of interleague play, and the Twins still haven't been to Atlanta -- and won't go there this year, either?

Baseball contends very forcefully every year that interleague play is a huge success. A press release this week claimed that since 1997, interleague games have drawn 11.8 percent more fans than intraleague games.

I don't doubt their arithmetic. I do question the value of the numbers, which are skewed by the continuing popularity of the Subway Series in New York, the City Series in Chicago and the Bay Series in Oakland and San Francisco. They're also skewed because interleague games are disproportionately played on weekends, and none of them are played on school nights, the lowest-drawing nights for all teams.

But the matchups are by far the bigger problem.

First off, they're unfair, because teams in the same division don't face the same interleague opponents. This year, while the Red Sox play the Pirates and Astros, the Yankees get the Reds and Rockies.

Second, they make no sense. Can anyone explain why the Red Sox will be making their ninth visit to Philadelphia this year, while they've been to Cincinnati and St. Louis only once? I know fitting a 14-team American League with a 16-team National League is tough, and I know that baseball has admitted that it allows Fox and ESPN to pick some interleague matchups, but none of that explains the great disparity.

Finally, interleague play was sold under a false premise. Fans in Boston had to wait 15 years to see the Cubs, and even after this year fans in Kansas City still won't have seen the Braves.

That's just wrong.

For the record, the matchups that are being played for the first time in 2011 are Cubs at Red Sox, Reds at Orioles, Astros at Blue Jays, Rays at Brewers and Cardinals at Orioles.

The matchups that haven't yet been played, and won't be played this year, are Braves at Royals, Cubs at A's, White Sox at Mets, Cardinals at Angels, Dodgers at Yankees, Rays at Dodgers, Twins at Braves, Padres at Blue Jays and Rangers at Cardinals.

Oh, and one more thing. We still have no idea what interleague play will look like after 2011, because it's going to come up as part of this summer's negotiations between the players and owners.

Some people have been pushing for realignment into two 15-team leagues (which would require interleague games every night). Others have been pushing for more limited interleague play.

Me? I just like the idea of the Cubs visiting Boston.

And I wonder why it took 15 years of interleague play to get it.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. No one has ever accused the Reds of throwing a World Series to the Indians, or vice versa. Maybe that's because Ohio's two teams have never met in the World Series. Chances are, it won't happen this year, either, but at least the Indians are in first place and the Reds are close. Speaking of close, the Ohio interleague series stands at 18 wins apiece, heading into Reds at Indians, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Progressive Field. Oh, and for those who think interleague play only matters in New York, Chicago, Southern California and the Bay Area, on Saturday night the Indians will have their first sellout in three years.

2. The best series of the weekend is in Philadelphia, but it sure would have been better if Josh Hamilton and Chase Utley were going to play. Instead, both may be activated from the disabled list after this weekend. And it sure would have been better if Cliff Lee was returning to Texas, rather than pitching at home in Rangers at Phillies, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Lee faces Colby Lewis, who has more wins (four, to Lee's two), more complete games (two, to Lee's one) and just as many shutouts (one apiece).

3. The Cubs still have rotation issues, which is why Doug Davis is opening the series against the Red Sox on Friday night. The Red Sox also have rotation issues, which is why Alfredo Aceves is their scheduled starter for Cubs at Red Sox, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at Fenway Park. Aceves has made just five big-league starts, none since 2009. But one of those starts was at Fenway for the Yankees, who beat the Red Sox that night 19-8. Not that Aceves can take much credit, as he went just four innings and allowed four runs. Oh well. At least Aceves and Carlos Zambrano should look good in those 1918-style uniforms.

Posted on: May 16, 2011 12:35 pm
Edited on: May 16, 2011 12:41 pm

Big loss for Indians as Sizemore heads to DL

The Indians were unimpressive this spring, and one big reason is that Grady Sizemore barely played.

The Indians are the surprise team of the early season -- they still own baseball's best record, at 24-13 -- and one big reason is that Sizemore has played like the star he was in 2007-08.

And now Sizemore is on the disabled list once again, with a right knee contusion that just wouldn't heal quickly enough. If there's good news for the Indians, it's that this is the other knee, not the one that Sizemore had microfracture surgery on last year.

It's also worth noting that the Indians are 13-7 in games Sizemore hasn't started this year, basically the same winning percentage as they have in the games he has started (11-6).

Still, if you believe in the Indians as season-long contenders, it's in significant part because of Sizemore's return to star status. He was a three-time All-Star from 2006-08, and the Indians were a threat with him. He was on the DL for much of the last two years, and the Indians lost 97 and 93 games without him.

Yes, they traded away CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez in that time. Yes, Travis Hafner was hurt or seriously underperforming, too.

And yes, other players like Michael Brantley may be emerging as stars.

But if you want to believe in the Indians, you need to believe that Grady Sizemore will keep playing -- and playing at a high level. Instead, now he's hurt -- again.

The Indians called up Travis Buck from Triple-A Columbus to take Sizemore's roster spot. Buck, formerly with the A's, was hitting .333 with 21 RBI in 18 games at Columbus. But he's no Sizemore.

Perhaps Sizemore won't be out long. Last week, the Indians said that an MRI on Sizemore's right knee showed no structural damage. But for a player who has missed so much time, any trip to the DL is troubling, and there's always a worry that he'll miss more time that originally estimated.

Another concern: The Indians are about to enter a particularly challenging part of their schedule. They go to Chicago this week for two games with the improving White Sox, then begin a stretch where they'll play the first-place Reds, the hot Red Sox and then the first-place Rays.
Category: MLB
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