Results tagged ‘ Austin Jackson ’

Game 77: Angels-Tigers …

Angels (33-43)

laaJ.B. Shuck, LF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, DH
Mark Trumbo, 1B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Josh Hamilton, RF
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Hank Conger, C
Erick Aybar, SS

Pitching: LH C.J. Wilson (6-5, 3.61 ERA)

Tigers (42-32)

DET2Austin Jackson, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Victor Martinez, DH
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Omar Infante, 2B
Avisail Garcia, LF
Bryan Holaday, C

Pitching: RH Rick Porcello (4-4, 4.74 ERA)

  • After seeking a second opinion, Jason Vargas will indeed undergo surgery for the blood clot in his left armpit area. He’ll be away from throwing for two weeks and will start a rehab program thereafter, which could have him back by the end of July.
  • Peter Bourjos sustained no structural damage in his left thumb, an MRI confirmed. He’s not in the lineup today, but is available to pinch-run and play defense. Bourjos is hopeful of returning on Tuesday.
  • Hamilton, as you might have noticed, is back in the lineup after missing the weekend series against the Pirates with a sore right wrist. The wrist still bothers him when he slows down his swing, but it’s manageable.
  • Both teams canceled pregame batting practice today due to a threat of rain, and now, at 5:35 p.m. ET, it’s starting to come down a little bit. Stay tuned …


How Angels’ ‘Big 3’ stacks up in 2013 …

Josh Hamilton

I wrote recently about the Angels’ own prestigious “Big Three” of Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton — how they could potentially hold up historically and in this era.

But how do they hold up in 2013? There’s little debate that the Angels now have the most talented and celebrated lineup trio in baseball, giving them arguably the game’s most potent offense. But I was a little stunned that their 2012 stats didn’t show it.

In fact, when combining each of their OPS from 2012, the Angels’ trio ranked third, behind those of the Tigers and Reds. Below is the top 15, based on combined OPS of the top three current players in each lineup (minimum is 400 plate appearances) …

  • Tigers (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson): 2.795
  • Reds (Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick, Jay Bruce): 2.759
  • Angels (Trout, Pujols, Hamilton): 2.752
  • Brewers (Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart): 2.729
  • Red Sox (David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli*): 2.635
  • Blue Jays (Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera): 2.627
  • Cardinals (Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina): 2.627
  • Rangers (Adrian Beltre, David Murphy, A.J. Pierzynski): 2.607
  • Rockies (Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Tyler Colvin): 2.602
  • Pirates (Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez): 2.569
  • D-backs (Aaron Hill, Paul Goldschmidt, Jason Kubel): 2.565
  • Yankees (Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira): 2.547
  • Twins (Josh Willingham, Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit): 2.532
  • Giants (Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Brandon Belt): 2.527
  • Dodgers (Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez): 2.524

* Napoli’s deal still hasn’t been finalized. 

** A special thanks to all of you for making this blog the 10th-most popular among beat writers in 2012. You’re the whipped cream on my sundae. 


Game 92: Angels-Tigers …

Angels (50-41)

Mike Trout, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Mark Trumbo, LF
Kendrys Morales, DH
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Erick Aybar, SS
John Hester, C

Pitching: LH C.J. Wilson (9-5, 2.43 ERA)

Tigers (47-44)

Austin Jackson, CF
Ryan Raburn, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, DH
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Brennan Boesch, RF
Gerald Laird, C
Danny Worth, 2B

Pitching: RH Doug Fister (3-6, 4.39 ERA)

Some pregame notes …

  • Dan Haren (stiff lower back) threw a 40-pitch bullpen session, is feeling good and is eyeing a weekend start against the Rangers. Asked about the pressure to pitch well, given how his return to form can impact how active the Angels are in the trade market? “No added pressure. I mean, the Trade Deadline is such a weird thing. I’ve gone through it personally. There’s only so much I can control. I want to come back and help this team. I’ve been a really good pitcher for eight or nine years. I’ve had a couple bad months, pitched through some stuff. I think people kind of forget how good I can be. It’s been kind of frustrating hearing all that stuff. I went on the DL to try and help this team, to get better for the last 12 starts I’ll make because I know those are going to be very important. I kinda had to swallow my pride and just get better.”
  • Mike Scioscia, when asked about Vernon Wells’ role on the team when he gets back in late July (he’ll start a rehab assignment with Triple-A Salt Lake on Friday): “We’re going to look at the situation presented when Vernon’s healthy and back and ready to go, but I think Vernon understands the situation. With the way Mike and Mark are playing, they’re going to be out there every day, and we’ll see how everything else folds in.”
  • The Angels signed outfielder Trevor Crowe to a Minor League deal recently, shortly after he was released by the Indians. Crowe could’ve come over in the nixed Bobby Abreu deal of late March.
  • Jerry Dipoto, on his ostracized center fielder: “At no point have we offered Peter Bourjos for anyone, starter or reliever.”
  • Dipoto, on trades: “We have nothing significant or imminent at this time. We’re just doing our due diligence.”
  • Jordan Walden (right biceps strain) is expected to throw again in a couple weeks. He’s waiting for some anti-inflammatories to set in.
  • Chris Iannetta (right forearm strain) threw to second base again today and felt good.


Game 91: Angels-Tigers …

Angels (49-41)

Mike Trout, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Mark Trumbo, LF
Kendrys Morales, DH
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Erick Aybar, SS
Bobby Wilson, C

Pitching: RH Garrett Richards (2-1, 4.21 ERA)

Tigers (47-43)

Austin Jackson, CF
Quintin Berry, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, DH
Brennan Boesch, RF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Alex Avila, C
Ramon Santiago, 2B

Pitching: RH Justin Turner (0-1, 1.80 ERA)

Some pregame notes …

  • Mike Scioscia finally relented, putting Trumbo in as the cleanup hitter behind Pujols, instead of Morales. “We all feel that Kendrys is pressing a little bit. He understands the importance of just being able to hit behind a guy like Albert. I don’t think he’s changed his game much, but right now he’s not very comfortable in the box. It doesn’t look like he’s attacking the ball like he can.”
  • Haren (stiff lower back) is expected to be with the team today and will throw a bullpen session in the next couple days. Scioscia, on his rehab outing: “First couple innings was a little bit off of his command, but physically he felt great, so it was a good workout for him. He feels good.”
  • Vernon Wells (right thumb surgery) expects to start a rehab assignment with Triple-A Salt Lake on Friday.

Some links from Monday …

Some AL West links …

Mike Miller decides against retirement.


6 Divisions in 6 Days, Day 4 …

Leading up to Opening Day, I’ll roll out an All-Star team for each of the six divisions in baseball — that includes a manager, a starting nine (with a DH also for the National League), three starters and two relievers. One catch: Each team must have at least one representative, and the skipper doesn’t count. Feel free to submit your own lineups below. I’d love to see how yours differ.

Day 4: AL Central
Plenty of great first-base talent here. So great that Eric Hosmer is out and another first baseman (Miggy) is at third.

Manager: Jim Leyland, DET


Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B (CLE)
Alex Gordon, LF (KCR)
Miguel Cabrera, 3B (DET)
Prince Fielder, DH (DET)
Paul Konerko, 1B (CWS)
Joe Mauer, C (MIN)
Alexei Ramirez, SS (CWS)
Shin-Soo Choo, RF (CLE)
Austin Jackson, CF (DET)


Justin Verlander, DET
Doug Fister, DET
Justin Masterson, CLE


Jose Valverde, DET
Chris Perez, CLE


Where will the top free agents sign? Here’s a guess …

Two things about the free-agent market this offseason: It sure is thin, and it sure is top heavy. If you’re looking for a lights-out closer, there are many. If you’re looking for a front-line starter, there are little. And if you want a premier slugger, you better be prepared to pay up.

Without further ado, here’s my guess (with emphasis on the word “guess”) at the destination of who I consider to be the top five free agents …

Albert Pujols: Cardinals

The notion that Tony La Russa‘s retirement somehow has some relevance with regards to Pujols’ situation is silly. Pujols is signing a deal that could reach 10 years. And even if La Russa, at 67, did come back, he’d only manage for another, what, two years? Pujols knows this. And this may just be me falling victim to the moment, but I can’t see Pujols signing with a different organization just because he’ll be making a few extra millions. With the Cardinals, Pujols goes to a city where he’s revered, an organization where he basically makes the rules and a team that consistently has a chance to win. The Cardinals’ contract offers may not have been lucrative enough before, but they got some extra money with a World Series run, restructuring Chris Carpenter‘s contract and signing Lance Berkman to a rather bargain deal. Plus, if they make third-base coach (and Pujols’ buddy) Jose Oquendo the manager, their chances of him staying are even greater. It’ll be a long, drama-filled battle. But in the end, I’ve got the Redbirds. … Perhaps it’s just that part of me that wants to believe a star player can stay with one franchise.

Other options: Rangers, Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Marlins, Blue Jays, Nationals

Prince Fielder: Dodgers

I can’t see Fielder picking his team until Pujols signs first and, thus, sets the market for him. And though Brewers owner Mark Attansio expressed his team would “be in the game” for Fielder, it’s long been considered a foregone conclusion that the 2011 season was Fielder’s last in Milwaukee. The West coast seems to be the logical landing spot for the big vegetarian. It’s a big market, Prince and Matt Kemp are pals, the Dodgers badly want to improve their offense, and general manager Ned Colletti is expected to have $25 million to spend on free agents this offseason. Of course, a lot of this will hinge on how quickly the sale of the Dodgers goes through and who buys them. But if this gets done quickly, and MLB proclaims it will be, the Dodgers and Prince look like a great match.

Other options: Brewers, Rangers, Cubs, Giants, Mariners, Marlins, Blue Jays, Nationals

Jose Reyes: Tigers

The Tigers are right there. They just need to improve their defense and get some sort of consistency out of the top of their order. Hello, Jose Reyes. The Tigers’ biggest deficiency in 2011 was third base, but that can easily be solved by moving the defensively-inept Jhonny Peralta — signed through next year, with a team option for 2013 — over to his more comfortable position of third base and obtaining Reyes, who would allow Austin Jackson and his .317 on-base percentage to move lower in the order. Two things that may stand in the way: GM Dave Dombrowski has said he prefers to keep Peralta at shortstop, and the Tigers already have two players making $20-plus million a year in Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. But owner Mike Ilitch has shown he’ll do what it takes to build a championship-contending club, and the Tigers may be a Reyes away from that. The Mets will give it a valiant effort, but barring significant payroll-shedding moves, they don’t have the capital to keep up.

Other options: Mets, Marlins, Red Sox, Cardinals (if no Pujols)

C.J. Wilson: Marlins

The Marlins have money to spend, and they keep telling everybody they’re going to be in play for the major free agents. That includes Wilson, who would give Florida something it badly needs headed into its new ballpark: A frontline starting pitcher, particularly a left-hander. The price for Wilson will be high, considering he’s clearly the best of what’s a shallow free-agent pool of starters and plays a position that’s always coveted. Projections have him attaining something in the range of the five-year, $82.5 million deals A.J. Burnett and John Lackey previously signed in free agency. But he may get an ever bigger deal. Regardless, the Marlins want to prioritize the rotation and, for one of the rare times in franchise history, have the means to do it. Wilson would give them a solid No. 2 behind Josh Johnson.

Other options: Rangers, Yankees, Blue Jays, Padres, Nationals, Red Sox, Twins, Orioles, Rockies, Royals

Yu Darvish: Yankees

The Yankees are prioritizing the rotation once again, but reports say they don’t want to go all-in on Wilson. If he’s posted, the Japanese Darvish seems like the perfect answer for general manager Brian Cashman, who continues to put a premium on accumulating young starting pitching (something he showed while refusing to trade his top prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez at the non-waiver Trade Deadline). Darvish will have a much cheaper contract than Wilson because he’s only 25, but because of the posting fee that would come with him — remember, Daisuke Matsuzaka required a $52 million posting fee, and that was five years ago — he won’t be much cheaper. The Yanks will face a lot of competition for Darvish, but when it comes down to dollars, they usually win if they have enough desire. And they definitely desire another rotation piece.

Other options: Rangers, Blue Jays, Nationals, Red Sox, Mariners, Twins, Orioles, Rockies, Royals (and probably a bunch of others)

* Filed this week: The Cardinals will be fine, even without Albert Pujols; a look at the curious free agent case of one C.J. Wilson.

** Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.


DET or TEX — which is the better NYY fit?

Here’s an interesting question: If you’re the Yankees, do you want to win the American League East?

With the Yankees coming off three straight wins and currently leading their division by a half-game over the Red Sox, I found myself doing something managers and players shouldn’t (and wouldn’t) ever do: Thinking about playoff matchups with an entire month of the regular season left.

Barring a late charge by the White Sox, Indians and Angels, the playoff picture looks pretty set right now, with the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers and Rangers making up the slate. What we don’t know is who will face who in the two five-game AL Division Series, which comes down to matchups more than anything else.

As of right now, the winner of the AL East would face the Tigers and the winner of the AL Wild Card would face the Rangers. Of course, Detroit and Texas can flip-flop, since only a couple of games separate the two. But that brings me to an interesting question: If you’re the Yankees, do you prefer to face the Tigers or the Rangers?

The Rangers are a better all-around team, with a fierce offense, a loaded bullpen and a solid rotation. But with the Tigers, you have to face Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander twice — and we all know how big an impact a staff ace can have on a short series.

Here’s a look at how those matchups played out in the regular season …


Season series: Tigers, 4-3 (1-2 at Yankee Stadium, 3-1 at Comerica Park)

Key Yankees pitchers: CC Sabathia (0-1, 4.15 ERA in 2 GS); Freddy Garcia (0-1, 5.14 ERA in 1 GS); Bartolo Colon (5.73 ERA in 2 G, 1 GS); Phil Hughes (11.25 ERA, 1 GS); A.J. Burnett (1-1, 3.75 ERA, 2 GS); Mariano Rivera (0 ER, 2 1/3 IP); Rafael Soriano (0 ER, 1 IP); David Robertson (0 ER, 2 IP); Boone Logan (1 ER, 1 2/3 IP)

Key Tigers pitchers: Justin Verlander (4.50 ERA, 2 GS); Rick Porcello (1-0, 2.57 ERA, 1 GS); Max Scherzer (2-0, 4.15 ERA, 2 GS); Brad Penny (1-1, 6.97 ERA, 2 GS); Jose Valverde (2 ER, 4 2/3 IP); Phil Coke (2 ER, 2 1/3 IP); Joaquin Benoit (0 ER, 2 IP); Daniel Schlereth (1 ER, 4 IP)

Key Yankees hitters: Robinson Cano (.200 BA, 1 HR, 2 RBI); Curtis Granderson (.160 BA, 1 HR, 1 RBI); Alex Rodriguez (.320 BA, 1 HR, 2 RBI); Derek Jeter (.261 BA, 1 RBI, 2 BB); Mark Teixeira (.280 BA, 4 HR, 8 RBI); Brett Gardner (.273 BA, 1 RBI, 4 BB)

Key Tigers hitters: Miguel Cabrera (.417 BA, 2 HR, 8 RBI); Austin Jackson (.167 BA, 1 HR, 2 RBI); Alex Avila (.263 BA, 2 HR, 3 RBI); Victor Martinez (.263 BA, 1 HR, 2 RBI); Jhonny Peralta (.261 BA, 2 RBI, 2 SO); Brennan Boesch (.474 BA, 4 HR, 7 RBI)

Worth noting: The fact the Tigers and Yankees got all their regular-season games against each other out of the way in early May makes it difficult to give these numbers much weight. The Yankees beat up on sub-par pitching, which is what they’ll get every time Verlander doesn’t toe the rubber against them (minus Verlander, Tigers starters are 38-39 with a 4.84 ERA). Verlander is 4-3 with a 3.97 ERA in his career against the Yankees. But the way he’s going right now, two starts in a series for him essentially means two wins for the Tigers, no matter what other factors revolve around him.


Season series: Yankees, 7-2 (5-1 at Yankee Stadium, 2-1 at Rangers Ballpark)

Key Yankees pitchers: CC Sabathia (2-0, 5.12 ERA in 2 GS); Freddy Garcia (1-0, 0.00 ERA in 1 GS); Bartolo Colon (10.38 ERA in 1 GS); Mariano Rivera (0 ER, 5 IP); Rafael Soriano (2 ER, 3 2/3 IP); David Robertson (0 ER, 3 1/3 IP); Boone Logan (2 ER, 2 IP)

Key Rangers pitchers: CJ Wilson (2.25 ERA in 1 GS); Alexi Ogando (0-1, 12.38 ERA in 2 GS); Matt Harrison (1-1, 1.93 ERA in 2 GS); Derek Holland (0-2, 8.62 ERA in 3 GS); Neftali Feliz (4 ER, 3 IP); Darren Oliver (0 ER, 4 1/3 IP)

Key Yankees hitters: Robinson Cano (.270 BA, 4 HR, 10 RBI); Brett Gardner (.381 BA, 2 RBI, 1 BB); Curtis Granderson (.438 BA, 6 HR, 13 RBI); Mark Teixeira (.263 BA, 4 HR, 12 RBI); Alex Rodriguez (.208 BA, 3 RBI, 6 BB); Derek Jeter (.385 BA, 2 HR, 3 RBI)

Key Rangers hitters: Elvis Andrus (.263 BA, 2 RBI, 2 BB); Adrian Beltre (.265 BA, 1 HR, 7 RBI); Ian Kinsler (.111, 1 HR, 4 RBI); Michael Young (.400 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBI); Nelson Cruz (.059 BA, 3 BB, 9 SO); Josh Hamilton (.231 BA, 1 RBI, 2 BB)

Worth noting: The Rangers may be the better all-around team, and they may have beaten them in last year’s ALCS, but the Yankees have absolutely dominated the series this year, and their hitters have mashed their good-but-not-great pitching. The Yankees are one of the most difficult teams in baseball to pitch against, because they’re loaded with firepower and because they’re one of the best at working the count and taking pitches. Last year, the Rangers were able to beat them with a clear-cut ace in Cliff Lee leading their staff. This year, the Rangers’ rotation has been very good, but there is no Lee or Verlander in there, which means the Yankees can beat everybody in their rotation.

If you’re New York, do you prefer that matchup, even if it means playing three out of five on the road? Or do you go up against an inferior Tigers team with a superior ace?

That’s the question.

— Alden 

** Filed this week: Verlander remarkable but not worthy of MVP; NL Cy Young a three-man race; former Yankee Bernie goes into Latino HOF; Moore living proof of UYA’s success

So, about those MLB rankings …

One month in, and my preseason predictions aren’t looking very good. (Hey, at least give me credit for volunteering that … no?)

Through April, five of the eight teams I picked to make the playoffs don’t even have a .500 record right now; and the two teams I picked to clash in the World Series — the Red Sox and Braves — aren’t even among the top two in their own division. (Good thing I didn’t pick the Twins.)

Five months remain in the regular season, so everyone still has plenty of time. Who should worry, who will turn it around and who was I a fool to even consider?

Let’s have a look …

Red Sox (11-15): We’ll start in Beantown, because our jaws are still dropped from the ridiculously bad start coming from this ridiculously stacked team. Heading into Saturday’s action, the club I thought was going to sport baseball’s best offense ranked 17th in the Majors in OPS and tied for 18th in runs. Meanwhile, their bullpen ERA was tied for the second-highest in baseball. Boston started off the season with six straight losses, went on to win eight of nine shortly thereafter and have lost four of five since.

We’ll start with the good: The Sox have received some lights-out performances from three of their biggest question marks heading into the season — Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka (though Dice-K did leave his last start with elbow tightness). But two of their offseason acquisitions have struggled, with Bobby Jenks sporting a 2.160 WHIP and, most glaringly, Carl Crawford putting up only a .155 batting average in the first month.

Once Crawford gets going and emerges back into the top of the order — and believe me, he will — the dominoes will fall and the rest of that lineup will start churning out runs like we all expected. The rotation is fine if that offense hits to its capabilities — especially with the way Lackey, Beckett and Dice-K have been throwing it — but two big flaws are noticeable on this team: Catcher and lefty relief.

 Jarrod Saltalamacchia shouldn’t be in the big leagues at this point, and Jason Varitek isn’t anything more than a once-a-week starter these days, so eventually, they’ll need a reliable, veteran catcher who’s solid defensively and can manage a pitching staff. In the bullpen, they need a go-to lefty reliever. The Red Sox hoped Dennys Reyes would pan out, but the veteran was placed on waivers — ones he eventually cleared — four rough outings into his Sox tenure. I’m not solid on Hideki Okajima, either.

The good news is both of those roles are usually readily available at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Panic meter: 5

White Sox (10-18): The South Siders could ill-afford a rough start to the 2011 season. They went overbudget this offseason and needed good attendance to continue to turn profits, but White Sox fans are a fickle bunch that won’t show up if the team isn’t performing. And the recently patched-up relationship between general manager Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen didn’t need a test like this so early. But so it is. The White Sox’s bullpen struggled early on, the offense then went to sleep, and all year long the club has struggled to build any sort of consistency.

As Williams said in New York recently: “It’s a whole different stress level when you look at what we have.” He’s right. Chicago is loaded this season. But the truth of the matter is Adam Dunn‘s OPS is only .567, the offense altogether was tied for 20th in the Majors in runs scored entering Saturday, Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson have a combined 6.33 ERA, Chris Sale has given up seven runs in 10 2/3 innings and Jake Peavy still isn’t back.

Perhaps of all those warning signs, the latter is the most significant. The White Sox, regardless of all the talent they boast everywhere else, needed Peavy to be healthy and right in hopes of winning the deep American League Central (a division that’s only deeper with how the Indians are playing). Peavy did have an encouraging Minor League outing on Friday. But what he can give them after that kind of surgery is beyond me.

I do expect the offense to be much better, and I expect the bullpen to turn it around once Sale is more effective (and his stuff is just too good for him not to be). But facts are facts — the White Sox are already nine games back of first place. And this isn’t really an organization that breeds the type of optimism needed after early-season setbacks like these. (As Ozzie said in New York, “Every year, at some point, I get fired.”)

Panic meter: 8

Athletics (13-14): Allow me to bring in Dennis Green to kick this one off: “The Athletics are who we thought they were!” Going in, we felt the A’s had a nice-looking pitching staff and could defend, and we figured they’d struggle to score runs consistently. … OK, well, two out of three ain’t bad, right? Heading into Saturday, the A’s sported baseball’s lowest ERA and ranked 28th in runs scored. But they had the second-most errors in baseball, which has cost them considering eight of their losses have been decided by three runs or less.

The A’s can’t afford to be a team that makes a lot of errors. Their offense isn’t good enough to bail them out of many of them. Regardless, somebody does need to step up offensively. The question, as we pondered at the start of the season, is: who? In picking the A’s, I knew they had to ride a strong pitching staff and good defense to beat the likes of the Rangers and Angels. But also, both of those teams needed to struggle, and somebody needed to step up in that lineup.

The A’s are 0-for-3 there.

Maybe Billy Beane has a deal for a power bat up his sleeve.

Panic meter: 8

Tigers (12-15): Many wondered if Miguel Cabrera‘s Spring Training DUI troubles would be a distraction as the club looked to make a return trip to the playoffs. So far, Miggy — .333 batting average, seven homers and 19 RBIs — has been one of few bright spots in the Motor City. The Tigers, in the final year of Jim Leyland‘s contract, have been pretty streaky. They lost three in a row, then won four in a row, then lost three of four, then won four in a row again, and on Saturday night, they dropped their season-high fifth straight game. Meanwhile, offseason pickup Victor Martinez is on the disabled list, and there’s still no telling when Carlos Guillen and Joel Zumaya will be back.

The top of the order — mainly center fielder Austin Jackson and second baseman Will Rhymes — has struggled so far, with the Tigers going into Saturday ranking 29th and 18th in the Majors, respectively, in on-base percentage from the Nos. 1 and 2 spots in their order. Meanwhile, if anybody can find Magglio Ordonez (.159 batting average, zero homers in 18 games), please tell him to report to Comerica Park.

Look, at least one of the three between Brad Penny (6.11 ERA), Phil Coke (4.88) and Rick Porcello (4.25) is going to have a fine year when it’s all set and done;  Joaquin Benoit should pick it up at some point (though you can never tell with relievers); and once V-Mart is back, the offense will be much better (perhaps even Ordonez will be).

But this team isn’t immune to weaknesses. They’re rather old, have questions at several positions and — most important to me heading into the season — they don’t have that one lefty in the bullpen Leyland can have turn to late in games. When you’re in a division with the likes of Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Adam Dunn, you need that guy. Brad Thomas (10 earned runs in 8 1/3 innings) ain’t cutting it.

Panic meter: 7

Braves (13-15): Outside its record, Atlanta recently put pitching coach Roger McDowell on administrative leave after he allegedly heckled fans and saw starter Derek Lowe get cited for a DUI. When did the Braves become the Mets? On the field, meanwhile, they’ve struggled to find any sort of consistency in the early going, having not lost or won more than three in a row through the first month.

Of the five, I’m least worried about them.

Dan Uggla (.194 batting average) has always been a slow starter and should get going; Freddie Freeman (.217) is still getting adjusted to the big leagues, but will be a stud; and their starting pitching is simply too good for them not to be in it all year. Heading into the season, the Braves’ weaknesses lied in defense and in the top of the order. But I still believe they have enough elsewhere to overcome that.

Panic meter: 3

— Alden 

** What I wrote recently: Ageless wonder Omar Vizquel should be a no-doubt Hall of Famer; my 25-and-under All-Star team; it’s time to seriously consider moving Joe Mauer; CC Sabathia must step up for the Yanks; and a new generation has emerged onto the All-Star ballot.

*** Photos by The Associated Press. 

6 Divisions in 6 Days: AL Central

With this being the final week of Spring Training (crazy, right?), I figured it’d be justified to take a look at all 30 clubs and examine where they stand, what they need and where it looks like they’ll finish heading into the 2010 season. So, leading up to Opening Night between the Red Sox and Yankees, I’ll touch on one of the six divisions each day Monday-Saturday. Today, Day 3, we look at the American League Central …

Twins: I feel for this team. I really do. They’re some of the best group of guys I’ve ever dealt with, and — after a storybook division win last year and some nice offseason moves — they looked like strong contenders heading into Spring Training. But it won’t be easy recovering from the loss of one of the greatest — and, like most of the guys on this team, most underrated — closers in baseball, as Joe Nathan will miss the entire season with Tommy John surgery. Still, they’re a great defensive club, the bullpen is strong, and I love that offense. Orlando Hudson was a nice addition to the two-hole, and Jim Thome makes that a very formidable bench. And you already have Denard Span leading off, and Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel in the middle of the order. But Nathan or not, I’m not a big fan of that rotation composed of basically a bunch of No. 3 and 4 starters. There simply is no legitimate top-of-the-rotation guy among Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano or Nick Blackburn. Perhaps Francisco Liriano can capture some of that old magic, but that remains to be seen. So does this team. 
Tigers: The Tigers waited until the start of Spring Training to acquire the services of Johnny Damon. But boy do they need him. I didn’t see any way they can go into the season with youngsters Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore and still expect to compete in the division. But they’re right up there now, and they have as good a shot to win it as the Twins or White Sox do. Miguel Cabrera is always a force in the middle of the order, and the talk of camp has been how good Magglio Ordonez has looked thus far. The guy who needs to produce is Carlos Guillen, who went into Thursday batting just .236 this spring and hit just .242 with 11 homers in 81 games in 2009. Pitching wise, Justin Verlander is one of the top arms in the game, and Rick Porcello is close to being that, too. But they’ll feel the loss of Edwin Jackson, as three question marks, as Max Scherzer, Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis bring their fair share of questions to the rest of that starting staff. In the bullpen, Jose Valverde was a nice addition, and there are some other nice pieces that make it a formidable bunch. All in all, I think the Tigers did pretty well this offseason considering they expected a fire sale with the economic climate Detroit currently faces. 

White Sox: I really don’t know what to make of this group, to be honest. I have no real read. I’m sure cooky manager Ozzie Guillen has something to do with that. But it has more to do with the uncertainty of some of their most important players. Guys like Alex Rios, Jake Peavy, J.J. Putz, Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones. With those guys, you could strike gold or come away with coal. That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if this team loses 100 or wins 100. They’re that much of an enigma. That starting rotation has a chance to be great with Mark Buerhle and Peavy at the top. But Peavy was limited to 20 innings last year after Tommy John surgery. The lineup could be great, but Rios, Jones and Pierre will have to produce in order to complement Carlos Quentin, Paul Konerko and Alexei Ramirez. Who knows if that’s going to happen? And the bullpen could be solid, but that could hinge on a bounce-back year from Putz as the bridge to Bobby Jenks. South Siders = Big Mystery. 

Indians: Just like when he took over as the Nationals’ skipper in 2007, it’s going to be a trying first year in Cleveland for new manager Manny Acta. Frankly, the Indians are just not a contender yet. But Acta will at least have some nice pieces to work with. Keep your eyes on speedy left fielder Michael Brantley and power-hitting first baseman Matt LaPorta. (Not just because he’s a former Gator; though that’s reason enough, right?) Also, right fielder Shin-Soo Choo — he of a .300 batting average, .394 on-base percentage and 20 homers last year — is one of the more underrated players in baseball. And the big boys, Grady Sizemore, Jake Westbrook, Travis Hafner and Fausto Carmona have looked good this spring. Besides Westbrook and Carmona, though, there isn’t much else in that rotation, and Kerry Wood — probably out for the first two months of the season — can’t really be counted on to close games out. So, the Indians are still a ways away. But they’ll be exciting to see offensively. 

Royals: Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke joins a team heading into the 2010 season with … well, not much else. That rotation is up in the air after Greinke, as Gil Meche, Kyle Davies and Brian Bannister were all shut down late last season with shoulder fatigue. One look at this roster, and you’d swear you’re gazing at the recycling bin sitting on the side of your house. Rick Ankiel, Scott Podsednik and Jason Kendall were the big offseason additions for the Royals, so we’re using the term “big” loosely here. Perhaps what’s most important, though, is for Alex Gordon — Kansas City’s No. 2 overall Draft pick in ’05 — to finally realize his potential. Since they won’t compete, watch for the Royals’ future in Gordon, right-hander Aaron Crow and lefty Noel Arguelles.  

AL Central champion: White Sox

— Alden Gonzalez
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