Posted on: May 12, 2011 6:52 pm

3 to watch: The Verlander edition

Ryan Braun remembers Justin Verlander's first no-hitter. He was there.

So no, Braun wasn't surprised to see Verlander throw a second no-hitter last Saturday in Toronto. And no, Braun won't be surprised if some day Verlander throws another one.

"Any starting pitcher who is throwing 100 [mph] in the eighth inning or the ninth inning should put himself in position to throw a no-hitter sometime," Braun said this week. "As far as dominant stuff goes, he's as good as any pitcher I've ever seen."

Braun saw Verlander's first no-hitter, in June 2007, but he didn't play in the game. He was in his first weeks in the major leagues, and Brewers manager Ned Yost gave him that night off.

Yost now manages the Royals, which means he'll see Verlander again on Friday night, in the Tiger right-hander's first start since no-hitting the Blue Jays.

Verlander has great history against the Royals, including throwing his first big-league shutout in Kansas City in 2006. He's 10-2 in 16 career starts against the Royals, with a 2.58 ERA.

He's never thrown a no-hitter against them. Not yet.

"On his good days, he's at the top of the league stuff-wise," said Craig Counsell, who went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Verlander's first no-hitter. "And he's able to maintain that special velocity through the game."

Despite his success against the Royals, this Kansas City team may not be the most likely opponent if you're looking for another Verlander no-hitter. Current Royals players have hit a combined .312 against Verlander, with Billy Butler one of Verlander's toughest opponents at .406 (13-for-32).

And how did Verlander do in his first start after his first no-hitter?

Not bad. He beat the Phillies, 7-4, allowing three runs on seven hits in six innings. But there was no real no-hit threat, as Verlander allowed a second-inning single to Abraham Nunez.

On to 3 to watch:

1. The American League Central could be getting interesting, now that the Tigers have won eight of their last nine and the White Sox have won four of their last five. The Tigers are now just percentage points behind the second-place Royals, going into the series that will begin with Verlander against Luke Hochevar in Royals at Tigers, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Comerica Park.

2. The last time the Red Sox sent Josh Beckett to the mound against the Yankees, they were 1-7 and it already felt like must-win time. Things aren't as desperate now. Then again, the Sox just lost two in a row in Toronto, John Lackey gave up nine runs, and once again Boston is three games under .500. And they're in New York. So yeah, maybe it is must win, especially when Beckett takes the mound against CC Sabathia for Red Sox at Yankees, Saturday night (7:10 ET) at Yankee Stadium.

3. It's Cardinals-Reds time again, so that means it's time for more interesting tweets from Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, right? As of late Thursday afternoon, there hadn't been any, but we'll keep watching, all the way through Cardinals at Reds, Sunday afternoon (1:10 ET) at Great American Ball Park. As of now, the Cardinals are still saying that Sunday's game is the last one that ailing manager Tony La Russa will definitely miss, but stay tuned on that, too. Meanwhile, acting manager Joe Pettini did his part to play down the importance of this series, saying Thursday, "It's early in the year, so it's just another series."

Posted on: May 12, 2011 6:21 pm

Berkman: Drayton is the 'last of a dying breed'

CHICAGO -- Drayton McLane has owned the Astros for more than 18 years. Lance Berkman played for the Astros for 12 of those seasons.

Now Berkman is an ex-Astro, and it appears that soon McLane will be an ex-Astro owner.

"It's kind of sad to see," said Berkman, now an outfielder with the Cardinals. "The individual owner of a baseball team is kind of going the way of the dodo. Drayton was kind of the last of a dying breed."

The Houston Chronicle reported this week that McLane's sale of the Astros to local businessman Jim Crane could be completed as soon as next week. But Berkman said even when the Cardinals were in Houston two weeks back, he felt like things had already changed.

Now, he just hopes Astros fans will appreciate McLane as he does.

"He's not a perfect owner, but I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an owner who wanted to win more," Berkman said. "He catches a lot of flak, I know."

Posted on: May 12, 2011 6:00 pm

It's Cards-Cubs -- where is everybody?

CHICAGO -- Jim Hendry tried.

So did the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Hendry, the Cubs general manager, began this Cubs-Cardinals week by hugging free-agent-to-be Albert Pujols. The Post-Dispatch followed that up Thursday by putting Pujols on the cover of its sports section -- photo-shopped into a Cubs uniform.

This is Yankees-Red Sox stuff, without the hatred.

"There's probably more hate in the Northeast," Hendry said with a smile.

There's a little more intensity, too. For all the history, and despite the (small possibility) of some Pujols free-agent intrigue, Cubs-Cardinals isn't Yankees-Red Sox, and fans seem to notice.

Thursday afternoon's series finale, won by the Cards 9-1, didn't come close to filling Wrigley Field. The Cubs drew better for their midweek series against the Rockies two weeks back than they did for this week's meeting with the supposedly arch-rival Cardinals.

And as for hatred?

"The first night, standing in right field, I was like, 'Where is everybody?'" said Lance Berkman, going through Cubs-Cardinals for the first time since signing with the Cards as a free agent. "To be honest, our series between the Astros and the Cubs were more intense."

To be honest, Yankees-Red Sox isn't always the war it's made out to be, either.

Berkman and Kerry Wood, who spent the second half of the 2010 season with the Yankees, had heard all the Yankees-Red Sox buildup before they arrived.

"I don't want to make anyone mad, but I was underwhelmed," Berkman said. "I was expecting mayhem in the stands, and electricity."

It wasn't there, in large part because the Red Sox were hit by injuries and were going through a disappointing season. And all that means is that Yankees-Red Sox is more like baseball's other rivalries than anyone in either city would want to admit.

The same goes for Cubs-Cardinals, of course.

When the Cubs were battling the Cards for National League Central superiority a few years back, Cubs-Cardinals was a big deal. Dusty Baker would fire a few shots, and fans would get upset.

"This rivalry has kind of changed," Wood admitted. "Back in that time, for a few years in a row, it was the same group."

Rivalries are always better when some of the personalities stay constant (will Yankees-Red Sox be the same when Boston fans can't boo Derek Jeter?), and when both teams are winning.

Unlike the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Cubs and Cardinals have never met in a postseason series, and in recent years they haven't gone to the wire in any division race, either. This year, the Cards are in first place at 22-16, while the Cubs are 16-20.

Remember, when the Red Sox fell out of the race last year, Yankees-Red Sox didn't wow people, either.

"Honestly, I was expecting more," Wood said.

Maybe the Yankees and Red Sox provide more this weekend in the Bronx. The Cards and Cubs didn't provide more this week at Wrigley.

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 12, 2011 3:03 pm
Edited on: May 12, 2011 5:50 pm

And playing the part of Tony La Russa . . .

CHICAGO -- The uniform looked familiar. The sunglasses looked familiar. The hair looked familiar.

Yes, Kyle Lohse played the part well.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa remains away from the team, being treated for shingles. But in a somewhat comic tribute to the missing skipper, Lohse donned La Russa's No. 10 jersey, put on a pair of sunglasses and a La Russa wig and took the lineup card to home plate before Thursday's game against the Cubs.

Maybe it worked, too. The Cardinals scored five times in the second inning to take an early lead over the Cubs, on the way to a 9-1 win.

Better yet, La Russa appreciated the gesture.

"I already got that text," acting manager Joe Pettini said after the game.


"I don't know who will be managing tomorrow," Pettini joked. "I wasn't going to let that happen, but the guys seemed to think Tony would get a kick out of it."

He did, and he no doubt got an even bigger kick out of the Cardinals' win.

La Russa is supposed to be home resting, but he has been in regular contact with Pettini, to the point of making out the daily lineup. As Pettini said, "I don't think he rests during the games."

A look at Lohse/La Russa, courtesy of a screen grab from CSN Chicago caught by a fan and posted on Twitter by @sportshuman:

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 11, 2011 11:09 pm
Edited on: May 12, 2011 5:54 pm

Spring strugglers lead Cardinals to first place

CHICAGO -- You know that spring training stats don't matter. I know that spring training stats don't matter.

Every spring, I tell you that the stats don't matter.

And then every spring, you get fooled and I get fooled, and we start worrying about a pitcher who can't get anyone out all spring, and a hitter who looks like he has lost it at the plate.

Then we wake up in the second week of May, and that pitcher has the second-lowest ERA in the whole National League. And that hitter has the highest OPS in the whole National League.

We wake up in the second week of May, and we find the Cardinals in first place in the NL Central, and two of the biggest reasons are Jaime Garcia and Lance Berkman.

The pitcher with the 6.26 spring ERA, the .392 opponents batting average, with 40 hits in 23 innings. The hitter with the .182 spring average, and just one home run in 55 spring at-bats.

Garcia, who allowed one run in seven innings in a 9-1 Thursday afternoon win over the Cubs, has already thrown two shutouts. Last Saturday, he took a perfect game into the eighth inning against the Brewers. He and teammate Kyle McClellan are the only two 5-0 pitchers in the league, and Garcia's 1.89 ERA is second only to Josh Johnson among NL starters.

Berkman, who had a sore elbow and didn't even play in the outfield until the final days of spring training, has played well in the field and has been even better at the plate. If you were going to name an early-season NL Most Valuable Player, it might well be him.

Berkman has slowed down over the last few days, with one hit in his last 16 at-bats through the Cards' 11-4 loss to the Cubs Wednesday night. But he's still hitting .357, with 10 home runs and 32 RBI in 33 games.

"He looks healthy," said Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun. "He looks athletic."

He looks nothing like he looked in spring training.

"He paced himself," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "That's one thing with veteran players. Early on, I was a little concerned that he wasn't on the field, but he said he would be OK."

Maybe it's a good thing that Mozeliak didn't know what Berkman was really thinking.

"I'm not going to lie," Berkman said. "Coming out of spring training, I was thinking, 'This is not good.' But the one good thing was that at the end of spring training, I felt like I had started to get my swing."

And he did.

"We were hoping to tap into the pre-2010 Lance Berkman," Mozeliak said. "Six weeks in, his performance has been unbelievable."

The same goes for Garcia, who said that his poor numbers in spring training actually might have helped lead to his great first six weeks of the season.

"It makes me a better pitcher to go out and struggle," he said. "Sometimes, you just have to remember what it's all about. I knew I had the stuff to pitch in the big leagues.

"Obviously, there were one or two games where I was like, 'What's going on?'"

Pitching coach Dave Duncan insists that he was never thinking that.

"I was never concerned," Duncan said. "Physically, he was good. And his stuff was good."

Garcia said the loss of Adam Wainwright to injury early in spring training may have been a factor, because he thinks maybe he subconsciously began thinking he had to be the one to make up for Wainwright's loss.

All through spring, Duncan and manager Tony La Russa maintained that Garcia's struggles weren't a concern. In any case, the Cardinals knew that however he did, Garcia was going to be in the rotation, because with Wainwright out, their depth had already taken a hit.

"To me, it was never a huge alarm," Mozeliak insisted. "I always felt he was going to succeed."

Sure enough, he has, and so has Berkman.

Remember that next spring. I know I will.

Category: MLB
Posted on: May 10, 2011 7:12 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2011 11:38 pm

Tony's team plays on, even without him here

CHICAGO -- Two decades ago, I moved to Michigan to cover the Tigers.

Or, as some people there would have told you, I moved there to cover Sparky Anderson.

In those years, people never asked, "How are the Tigers going to do this year?"

It was always, "How's Sparky going to do this year?"

In those days, the Tigers were Sparky. Sparky was the Tigers.

And that's pretty much how it is with the Cardinals and Tony La Russa.

No team is baseball is as defined by its manager as this one is. No manager in baseball is as synonymous with his team as this one.

The Cardinals are not Albert Pujols, any more than the Tigers of the 1980s were Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker or Jack Morris.

The Cardinals are Tony La Russa. And that's what made Tuesday such a strange night.

The Cardinals were at Wrigley Field. La Russa was in Arizona.

He'll be gone all week, the Cardinals announced late in Tuesday night's 6-4 win over the Cubs. The Cardinals hope he can return to the dugout when the team comes home next week, but even that isn't certain.

For now, La Russa is where he needs to be, finally dealing with a health condition diagnosed as shingles. For weeks, La Russa's players and coaches have watched him struggle with it. They've seen his swollen faces and his watery eyes.

"You could see on his face, he was struggling," said Chris Carpenter, Tuesday night's winning pitcher for the La Russa-less Cards.

When the Cardinals were in Los Angeles four weeks ago, the Cardinals players and coaches were telling La Russa to go to the hospital.

He refused.

"He doesn't want to let anyone down," said Dave McKay, La Russa's longtime first-base coach. "Ask him how he's doing, and he says, 'I'm OK.'

"And you know he's going through hell."

He doesn't want to be away. La Russa phoned in Tuesday night's lineup to acting manager Joe Pettini, and Pettini said he expects a phone call and a lineup every day this week.

"He's going to know everything that's going on," Pettini said, noting that he had voice mail from La Russa when Tuesday's game ended. "I was just hoping I didn't have to take my phone down to the dugout."

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who talked to La Russa during Tuesday's game, said the manager understands that rest and medication are what the doctors have prescribed.

But everyone around La Russa understands how tough it is for him to be away.

"He's never missed a game," said McKay, who joined La Russa with the A's in 1989 and moved with him to St. Louis in 1996. "I've never even seen him ill, although a lot of that is that he wouldn't want you to know it if he was."

He would never want you to think that he wasn't in control, and he always wants the Cardinals to play the game right and to conduct themselves right. Just as Anderson did, La Russa insists that his players treat clubhouse attendants and flight attendants with respect.

And he insists that his players care as much and compete as hard as he does.

"The way we play on the field, how hard we play, is a reflection of our manager," said reserve catcher Gerald Laird, who came to the Cardinals this year and found that La Russa was everything he expected him to be.

It doesn't work for every player. We all know about the guys who have had run-ins with La Russa, the guys the Cardinals have traded away because they didn't mesh with La Russa.

We also know that whatever happens with his health this week, La Russa's time in St. Louis could be coming to an end. He's 66 years old, and once again operating in the final year of his contract.

One of these years, he actually will walk away from the Cardinals, although the thinking in baseball has been that if Pujols stays, then La Russa will stay, too.

Meanwhile, the thinking on the South Side of Chicago has been that La Russa is the one manager that Jerry Reinsdorf would be happy to get back, the one guy he wouldn't mind replacing Ozzie Guillen with.

At this point, that would feel strange, even though La Russa did manage the White Sox for nine years. At this point, it's even strange to look back and see La Russa in an A's uniform, even though he managed that team for 10 years and won his first World Series there.

He is the Cardinals, and the Cardinals are him.

"He treats the organization like it's his," McKay said. "The guy's tireless. He treats it like he owns it."

That's why it was so hard for him to leave. That's why it was so strange to see the Cardinals without him.

"His influence is with this club," Cubs manager Mike Quade said.

There's no doubt about that. La Russa's coaches have been with him for years, and they'll run the game the way he would, as much as they can.

Pettini will be the acting manager, with Dave Duncan handling the pitching and McKay and Jose Oquendo running their part of the operation.

It's still La Russa's team. It still will be his team.

And even as you ask how Tony is doing, it's still right to ask how Tony's team is doing.

Posted on: May 10, 2011 6:34 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2011 11:46 pm

La Russa to miss road trip with shingles

CHICAGO -- Tony La Russa doesn't miss baseball games.

He just doesn't.

This week, he has little choice. Suffering from shingles for the last month, the Cardinals manager will miss this week's entire trip to Chicago and Cincinnati.

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said late Tuesday night that the Cardinals are hopeful -- but not certain -- that La Russa will return to manage the team during the homestand that begins next Monday against the Pirates. Mozeliak spoke to La Russa during the Cardinals' 6-4 win over the Cubs Tuesday, and made the decision in consultation with doctors.

La Russa was in Arizona the last two days for tests.

"They feel the best treatment is rest," Mozeliak said. "He recognizes it's for the best for him."

Staying away is tough for the hard-driven La Russa, and before Tuesday's game some Cardinals players were confidently predicting that their manager would be back in the dugout Wednesday night. But even as they said that, the players and the Cardinal coaches seemed relieved that La Russa had finally agreed to seek treatment.

Last month, when the Cardinals were in Los Angeles, they begged La Russa to go to the hospital, and he refused. He has continued to manage the team, even while those around him can tell that he has been in severe pain. The area around La Russa's right eye has been badly swollen.

"He's done an amazing job doing his job, but it's certainly not the same Tony," Mozeliak said.

Bench coach Joe Pettini will manage the team in La Russa's absence, and Mozeliak expressed confidence that the coaching staff could keep everything in control. He said that the team doesn't plan to call up any minor-league coaches, at this point.

Pettini talked to La Russa Tuesday afternoon, and it was La Russa's lineup that the Cardinals fielded Tuesday night. Pettini said he expects La Russa to continue making out lineups for every day that he's out.
Category: MLB
Posted on: April 22, 2011 10:01 am

3 to watch: The 'No extra significance' edition

Some Reds try to play down their new-found rivalry with the Cardinals.

"There's no extra significance at all," Jay Bruce told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Oh yeah? Tell that to Brandon Phillips.

When the Reds' team plane landed in St. Louis on Thursday night, Phillips went straight to his Twitter account .

"Just landed in St. Louis! Sad face," he posted. "But these wins will make me happy!"

One hour later, he was at it again, saying he told teammates that the best thing to eat in St. Louis was Lunchables.

No extra significance?

How about those T-shirts they're selling in St. Louis , the ones that read "Mike Leake stole this shirt for me"?

Look, we know rivalries can be overblown. Most teams don't really hate each other as much as the fans would like them to. Players change teams. As Reds manager Dusty Baker told reporters Thursday, it's not like the Reds have anything against Lance Berkman or Ryan Theriot.

Besides that, the Cardinals and Reds know better than most teams that head-to-head meetings often don't decide division titles. The Cardinals won 12 of 18 games against the Reds in 2010 -- including six of the final seven -- and the Reds still won the National League Central.

But please don't tell me that these games have "no extra significance."

On to 3 to watch.

1. As we mentioned in the last 3 to watch, the Indians and Royals are on top of the American League Central -- right now. And one scout who just finished watching the White Sox said they "look uninspired" and "look like they're still going through spring training." Perhaps they'll look more inspired this weekend in Detroit, starting with White Sox at Tigers, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Comerica Park. Mark Buehrle (5-0 in his last eight starts against the Tigers) faces Justin Verlander (5-0 in his last five starts against the White Sox). It's the first Buehrle-Verlander matchup in more than three years, since an April 2008 meeting when the White Sox won, 13-2, in a game where Nick Swisher and Pudge Rodriguez were the two leadoff hitters.

2. Mike Leake won't be starting in this weekend's Reds-Cardinals series. Chris Carpenter will be. All he's done against the Reds is win each of his last 10 starts, dating back to 2006. Last year alone, Carpenter was 5-0 with a 1.78 ERA against the Reds. He goes against Travis Wood in Reds at Cardinals, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Busch Stadium. The Fox network even thought enough of the matchup to send its top crew (Guess the Yankees and Red Sox aren't playing this weekend). ESPN even noticed. "We haven't been on the Sunday night game in I don't know how long," Baker told the Enquirer.

3. Remember when John Lackey was the Angels' ace? Remember when it seemed like another black mark against Angels owner Arte Moreno that he allowed Lackey to leave as a free agent, the same winter the Angels tried but failed to trade for Roy Halladay? Now Jered Weaver and Dan Haren are a combined 9-0 with a 1.20 ERA, while Lackey carries a 9.82 ERA into his start in Red Sox at Angels, Sunday afternoon (3:35 ET) at Angel Stadium. That's not to say the Angels couldn't use more rotation depth. While Weaver and Haren are 9-0 (going into Haren's Friday night meeting with Jon Lester), the rest of the Angels pitchers are 3-7.

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