Results tagged ‘ Buster Posey ’

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. 


Trumbo’s favorite Derby homer? It’s a tie for first …

KANSAS CITY — Mark Trumbo impressed a lot of people with his Home Run Derby showing on Monday night, even though he was eliminated in a tiebreaker swing-off by Jose Bautista. Asked for his favorite of the 13 through the first two rounds, Trumbo narrowed it down to two — the one that landed on the roof of the Hall of Fame building beyond the left-field bleachers (measured at a conservative 428 feet); and the smoking line drive out to straightaway center (420).

“I’d say the one on top of the roof,” Trumbo said, before backtracking — “but the one to center was impressive. I think a lot of the guys really liked the line drive.”

Trumbo’s average distance per home run — 434 feet — was the longest among the competitors, including champion Prince Fielder. He started off slow each round, then got into a little bit of a rhythm towards the middle, but felt he could’ve done better.

“I felt like I never really got into a great rhythm,” Trumbo said. “It seemed like I’d hit one, make an out, and then have to take a few pitches. Ideally, the goal is to get into an extended rhythm, kind of like Prince did, and then rattle off a better total. My biggest thing was just to have fun with it. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I wanted to get one. That was the advice — don’t get a goose egg.”

Trumbo’s favorite moment?

“[David Ortiz] pulled me aside before I left yesterday and that was really cool,” he said. “He was telling me it took him three or four times of doing it to really feel like he — not had it down, but had a chance. Things move very, very quickly when you’re out there. You can’t really simulate that.”

But C.J. Wilson, at least, can capture it.

As usual, Wilson was out there with his camera and estimated taking roughly 800 photos of the Derby participants. He’ll look over them when he has time in the next few days and print them out for Trumbo to keep.

“I had my brand-new camera out there, taking some cool images that I’ll process while we’re on the road in the next couple days and see if I can come up with some winners,” Wilson said. “It’s just fun. Jered [Weaver] and Mike [Trout] and I were out there just trying to hype him up and keep him motivated and have a good time. It’s a lot of pressure out there, when you’re the only guy batting for a couple minutes at a time in front of the fans.”

Trumbo’s roommate also TiVo’d it. But many of those in attendance won’t need reminders of the show Trumbo put on. Many were impressed.

“I know my Twitter following went way up,” Trumbo said with a smile.

“Any time I’m in something, I want to win. But I’m going to take away some really cool memories from it.”

Some other pre-All Star Game notes

  • Asked about their friendship in a pregame presser, Trout joked of Bryce Harper: “We don’t like each other.” Bryce: “It’s like Bird and Magic. He’s Magic, I’m Bird.”
  • Maybe more LeBron and Wade? “I hope I play with [Trout] one day,” Harper said. “I think him playing center field, me playing right field, as a one-two punch, I think that’d be fun.”
  • Trout was asked who wins in a footrace between him and Peter Bourjos. His response: “I think Peter’s got me around the bases in an inside-the-parker, but home to first, we were talking about it the other day, I think I have him by a couple of steps.”
  • Weaver was told he’ll pitch the fifth inning tonight. As for how it affects him for the second half? It’s just like a normal bullpen session.
  • Trout and Trumbo are not really sure when they’ll get in. “I have all my gloves, as usual,” Trumbo said. C.J., of course, is sitting out due to a blister he doesn’t expect to impact his second half.
  • Weaver on not being named the starter for the All-Star Game a second straight year, despite leading the Majors with a 1.96 ERA: “I told you guys, whatever happens, I’m just excited to be here, be a part of it. Obviously it would’ve been cool to start back-to-back years, but I’m just excited to be able to get out there and throw an inning and just be part of this whole experience. It’s fun. It’s great to hang out with all these guys and just see who they are as a person instead of just battling against him.”
  • One guy Weaver was really excited to get to know a little better here: Adam Dunn. “He’s a funny character, man.”

Some Angels All-Star Game links …

Some intriguing All-Star Game stories …

The lineups …


Carlos Gonzalez, DH (COL)
Melky Cabrera, CF (SFG)
Ryan Braun, LF (MIL)
Joey Votto, 1B (CIN)
Carlos Beltran, RF (StL)
Buster Posey, C (SFG)
Pablo Sandoval, 3B (SFG)
Dan Uggla, 2B (ATL)
Rafael Furcal, SS (StL)

SP: RH Matt Cain (SFG)


Derek Jeter, SS (NYY)
Cano, 2B (NYY)
Josh Hamilton, LF (TEX)
Bautista, RF (TOR)
Fielder, 1B (DET)
Adrian Beltre, 3B (TEX)
MikOrtiz, DH (BOS)
Mike Napoli, C (TEX)
Curtis Granderson, CF (NYY)

SP: RH Justin Verlander (DET)


Game 70: Giants-Angels …

Jered Weaver is activated off the DL today, looking to pick up right where he left off and give the Angels eight series wins over their last nine …

Giants (38-31)

Gregor Blanco, DH
Ryan Theriot, 2B
Melky Cabrera, LF
Buster Posey, C
Angel Pagan, CF
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Brandon Belt, 1B
Nate Schierholtz, RF
Brandon Crawford, SS

Pitching: RH Ryan Vogelsong (6-2, 2.29 ERA)

Angels (37-32)

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

Pitching: RH Weaver (6-1, 2.61 ERA)

Some pregame notes …

  • Jerome Williams was placed on the DL on Wednesday, with the breathing problems that caused him to go to the hospital after his Monday night start. With that, the Angels opened a spot on the roster for Weaver. Williams passed out in the Angels clubhouse after pitching against the Giants, likely due to an asthma attack. He’ll take it easy for now, and there’s no timeline for his return. More on the site soon.
  • With Williams on the DL, Ervin Santana will start Saturday against the Dodgers and the young Garrett Richards will go Sunday. Dan Haren is the Friday starter.
  • The Blue Jays claimed reliever David Pauley off waivers from the Angels.
  • Scioscia was asked about the recent pine tar scandal between the Rays and Nationals. Scoiscia didn’t really have a problem with Davey Johnson bringing it up — which his former coach, Joe Maddon, took exception to — but said using pine tar is hardly an advantage for a pitcher. “Pine tar’s an accepted practice in baseball. And I don’t think hitters have much of an issue with it, especially when it’s cold or guys are really sweaty or it’s wet. It doesn’t change the flight of the ball, it’s in the rules, and obviously you have to abide by what’s in the rules. It’s like getting pulled over for going 66 mph in a 65 mph zone.” links from Tuesday …

Some AL West links …

And the Miami Heat are ONE WIN AWAY from championship glory.


Game 69: Giants-Angels …

A matchup of southpaws tonight, with Barry Zito going up against C.J. Wilson. In tune with that, the Angels are giving Kendrys Morales the day off, putting Mark Trumbo in at DH and giving Peter Bourjos a rare start …

Giants (38-30)

Gregor Blanco, RF
Ryan Theriot, 2B
Melky Cabrera, LF
Buster Posey, DH
Angel Pagan, CF
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Brandon Belt, 1B
Hector Sanchez, C
Joaquin Arias, SS

Pitching: LH Zito (5-4, 3.61 ERA)

Angels (36-32)

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

Pitching: LH Wilson (7-4, 2.30 ERA)

Some pregame notes …

  • Jerome Williams is resting comfortably at UC Irvine Medical Center and is feeling better. Mike Scioscia visited with him in the hospital last night, saying: “He felt much better once everything had calmed down a little bit. He continues to feel better today, but we have to evaluate exactly what his situation is and await direction from our medical department.”
  • Scioscia still doesn’t know — or simply remained coy about — what the corresponding roster move will be when Jered Weaver is activated off the DL for his Wednesday start. My hunch on two options: Williams going on the DL, buying them a little time; Andrew Romine getting optioned, again buying them some time.
  • Ervin Santana hasn’t been told whether he’s starting Saturday.
  • Since May 27, Trumbo is tied for the Major League lead with 10 homers and leads with 23 RBIs. Asked if Trumbo could be his everyday cleanup hitter, including against lefties, Scioscia said: “As of right now, against left-handed pitching, you’re going to see Mark hitting in the cleanup spot. For our team to really get to where we need, Kendrys really needs to be a big part of it. There’s no plans right now to move him out of the cleanup spot against lefties.”

Some links …

Some AL West links …

Two more wins, and LeBron James can silence the critics.


Game 68: Giants-Angels …

Very intriguing pitching matchup today, as the Angels look to make it three straight and put themselves to win their fourth straight series. In one corner, you have Matt Cain, fresh off hurling a perfect game against the Astros. In the other, you have Jerome Williams, whose trade from the Giants helped pave the way for Cain’s callup …

Giants (37-30)

Gregor Blanco, RF
Ryan Theriot, 2B
Melky Cabrera, LF
Buster Posey, C
Angel Pagan, CF
Pablo Sandoval, DH
Brandon Belt, 1B
Brandon Crawford, SS
Joaquin Arias, 3B

Pitching: RH Cain (8-2, 2.18 ERA)

Angels (36-31)

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

Pitching: RH Williams (6-4, 4.20 ERA)

Some pregame notes …

  • Jered Weaver (lower back) felt fine one day after a Sunday bullpen session and will get the ball on Wednesday, for the series finale against the D-backs in what will be his first start since May 28. Mike Scioscia said he’ll be on an 80-90 pitch limit. More on soon.
  • Wilson (concussion) was activated off the disabled list, with the young Hank Conger being optioned. The Angels also called up infielder Andrew Romine and once again designated reliever David Pauley for assignment, giving them 12 pitchers and 13 position players once again.
  • Chris Iannetta (right wrist surgery) felt tightness in his forearm, which delayed his rehab assignment, but played catch again on Monday and continues to hit. Still, Scioscia said a rehab assignment is not imminent at this time.
  • Scott Downs (side) threw a bullpen session on Sunday and feels ready to go today.
  • The Angels enter tonight on a 21-inning scoreless stretch, allowing five hits over their last two games.
  • This, in case you don’t already know, marks the first time the Giants visit Angel Stadium since the 2002 World Series. It’s their first regular-season stop since 2000.
  • Scioscia, on the decision to option Conger: “It’s a tough decision, because I think Hank in some ways is ready for the challenge. And then in some other ways, there’s no doubt that he needs to work on some things for consistency that, for his long-term development, is going to be important to him. I think the bottom line is, Hank’s upside is very important to us in the organization, and right now, he needs to be playing every day to reach that upside. And I think at some point, he’ll be better prepared for the opportunity to come up here, and not only contribute, but the opportunity to come up here and win a job and get out there and catch every day.”

Some Angels links from Father’s Day …

Some AL West links …

And a big key to the Heat’s success has been Dwyane Wade learning to defer to LeBron James.


6 Divisions in 6 Days, Day 5 …

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 5: NL West
Either of the five teams in this division could win it, and I would not be surprised.
Manager: Bruce Bochy, SFG
Dee Gordon, 2B (LAD)
Carlos Gonzalez, LF (COL)
Matt Kemp, CF (LAD)
Troy Tulowitzki, SS (COL)
Justin Upton, RF (ARI)
Andre Ethier, DH (LAD)
Pablo Sandoval, 3B (SFG)
Yonder Alonso, 1B (SDP)
Buster Posey, C (SFG)
Clayton Kershaw, LAD
Tim Lincecum, SFG
Matt Cain, SFG
Brian Wilson, SFG
J.J. Putz, ARI

Game 25: Angels-Giants …

Angels (14-9-1)

Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Albert Pujols, 1B
Vernon Wells, LF
Bobby Abreu, RF
Mark Trumbo, 3B
Peter Bourjos, CF
Bobby Wilson, C
Brad Mills, SP

Giants (14-10-3)

Angel Pagan, CF
Gregor Blanco, RF
Buster Posey, C
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Aubrey Huff, LF
Brandon Belt, 1B
Emmanuel Burriss, 2B
Brandon Crawford, SS
Tim Lincecum, SP

Some notes from this morning …

  • Bobby Cassevah (slight tear in labrum) still hasn’t been able to throw his bullpen session, and now it’s looking “doubtful” that he’ll start the season off in the big leagues, manager Mike Scioscia said. With Cassevah out, and Michael Kohn shut down for a bit while nursing a forearm injury, there are definitely spots to be won in that bullpen. A big key this week: How Jason Isringhausen looks. Isringhausen is throwing a bullpen today and then will pitch on back-to-back days.
  • Jered Weaver, Mike Trout and Kendrys Morales will all be seeing playing time at the Rockies/D-backs complex while the Angels are playing the Giants.
  • Scioscia, on this last full week of Spring Training: “This is an important week for us as a team, and some individual players in that room. In respecting that, we’re not going to miss any steps. The tendency would be to just get out there and go through it, but we’re still doing right-side defense, we’re still doing things that are going to important for us to win games and letting that process move forward with these guys tightening up any last things we need to this week, whether it’s pitcher-catcher relationship, whatever we need. You have to let that process play out and you can’t just miss a step.”

Some Angels links …

Some AL West links …

And the Miami Heat are not looking good right now. They lost a second straight game by double digits to the Pacers on Monday.


1st half is almost over; time for invisible hardware

Pretty unreal that the first half of this 2011 baseball season will ceremoniously end in three days.

It has been yet another busy one.

The Pirates, Indians and Diamondbacks are well-positioned in their respective divisions. The Phillies and Red Sox are on top as expected. The White Sox and Twins have struggled. Matt Kemp, Lance Berkman, J.J. Putz, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes have experienced their own respective revivals. Manny Ramirez has retired. Bartolo Colon has turned back the clock. Derek Jeter hasn’t. Jose Bautista has gotten even better. Bob Geren, Edwin Rodriguez and Jim Riggleman have departed. Davey Johnson and Jack McKeon are back. The Mets’ and Dodgers’ stability have come into question. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds have taken the stand. Eric Hosmer, Jemile Weeks, Lonnie Chisenhall, Dustin AckleyMike Trout and a host of others have come up. Buster Posey has been lost for the year. Joe Mauer has become somewhat of a first baseman. Bryce Harper has dominated. Dan Uggla, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Adam Dunn have all struggled with new teams. Justin Verlander and Francisco Liriano have thrown no-hitters. And pitching in general has continued to dominate.

One more weekend series remains before the All-Star break, and soon after that, we’ll reveal our cumulative first-half awards. But before I depart to Phoenix on Saturday morning, I figured I’d give you my own.

Here goes …


Jose Bautista (.333 BA, 1.158 OPS, 29 HR, 61 RBI)

* Simply the best player in baseball right now. He’s getting very little to hit and taking advantage of every mistake. 

AL Cy Young

Justin Verlander (11-4, 2.26 ERA, 138 SO, 143 1/3 IP)

* A no-hitter in progress every time he takes the mound. 

AL Rookie of the Year

Michael Pineda (8-5, 2.58 ERA, 106 SO, 108 IP)

* A physical specimen with great stuff who stays within the strike zone. 

AL Manager of the Year 

Manny Acta (Indians 47-39, 1 1/2 games up in the AL Central)

* Easy choice with the way the Indians have performed. Everyone expected them to eventually fall off, but they’re still in first place.


Jose Reyes (.354 BA, .398 OBP, 32 RBI, 30 SB, 15 3B)

* The most electrifying player in baseball right now. Let’s hope he doesn’t miss too much time on the DL. 

NL Cy Young

Jair Jurrjens (12-3, 1.87 ERA, 1.066 WHIP, 110 2/3 IP)

* In a league with names like Halladay, Lee, Lincecum, Johnson and Greinke, Jurrjens has put up the best numbers. 

NL Rookie of the Year 

Danny Espinosa (.249 BA, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 11 SB)

* Not a great crop right now. Espinosa has put up the power numbers and provided Gold Glove-caliber defense. 

NL Manager of the Year 

Tony La Russa (Cardinals 47-42, tied for first place in the NL Central)

* No Adam Wainwright, a mediocre Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols (by their standards), plus bullpen issues, and still TLR has them on top.

— Alden

** Filed this week: The NL has the pitching to win the All-Star Game; Werth, Uggla, Dunn and Crawford have all struggled with new contracts and new teams; MLB, New Orleans agree on new Urban Youth Academy; MLB, MiLB deal perhaps a sign of labor peace throughout industry. 

*** I haven’t watched the replay of the Rangers fan who died while trying to retrieve a baseball on Thursday night. I can’t. It would sadden me too much, and would make me think of how devastated I would be to lose my father. My heart goes out to that little boy and his family. 

Postseason breakdown: National League

MINNESOTA — While the American League was pretty much decided by the time the final week of the 2010 regular season began, the National League came down to the final Sunday.

Heading into the playoffs, the mystery continues. 

Three of the four NL postseason clubs were watching from home at this time last year. Can anyone from the Reds, Braves and Giants knock out the red-hot Phillies, who have won the pennant two years in a row? 

Have a look … 
Phillies (97-65)

Potential lineup

Jimmy Rollins, SS


Placido Polanco, 3B
Chase Utley, 2B
Ryan Howard, 1B
Jayson Werth, RF
Raul Ibanez, LF
Shane Victorino, CF
Carlos Ruiz, C

Potential rotation

Roy Halladay, RH
Roy Oswalt, RH
Cole Hamels, LH
Joe Blanton, RH

Key relievers

Brad Lidge, RH (CL)
J.C. Romero, LH
Ryan Madson, RH
Jose Contreras, RH

Key reserves

Brian Schneider, C
Wilson Valdez, INF
Ross Gload, INF/OF
Ben Francisco, OF

Why they’ll win: They’re calling them “H2O” now. But however you want to identify them — “The Big Three,” “Cole Oswaday” (that was me) — the starting-rotation trio of Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels is looking untouchable heading into this postseason. So untouchable that they’re pretty much all you need, especially in a short AL Division Series. Throw in the fact that their offense — when it’s right — is one of the most deadly in baseball, and the Phils look poised for a third straight trip to the World Series. 

Why they won’t: Just like last year, the Phillies and Charlie Manuel aren’t sure what they’re going to get in the ninth inning from Lidge, even though he has closed out the season very well. Also, the offense has been inconsistent this year, to say the least, and that’ll be something to watch out for, too — especially with J-Roll not looking too healthy. 

Giants (92-70)

Potential lineup

Andres Torres, CF


Freddy Sanchez, 2B
Aubrey Huff, 1B
Buster Posey, C
Pat Burrell, LF
Juan Uribe, SS
Jose Guillen, RF
Pablo Sandoval, 3B

Potential rotation

Tim Lincecum, RH
Matt Cain, RH
Jonathan Sanchez, LH
Madison Bumgarner, LH

Key relievers

Brian Wilson, RH (CL)
Sergio Romo, RH
Jeremy Affeldt, LH
Santiago Casilla, RH

Key reserves

Eli Whiteside, C
Edgar Renteria, INF
Cody Ross, OF
Aaron Rowand, OF

Why they’ll win: The Giants’ duo of Lincecum and Cain is as good as any in baseball and will keep games close, and Sanchez, the No. 3 man, has been an under-the-radar stud. San Fran is also a hot team going in, having gone 19-10 since the start of September to take the NL West from the Padres. Their bullpen is lights-out, too. The Giants finished the regular season with the best ERA in baseball, and the second-best relief-pitcher ERA. 

Why they won’t: This department has been better lately, but the Giants’ offense is still a big question mark heading into the postseason. Does Bruce Bochy‘s club have enough punch to compete with some of the NL’s best? Can they manufacture runs without having to rely on the long ball? And can Posey, the potential NL Rookie of the Year, bust out of his recent slump — 6-for-42 — and come up big in his first postseason? They’ll need him to. 

Reds (91-71)

Potential lineup

Brandon Phillips, 2B


Orlando Cabrera, SS
Joey Votto, 1B
Scott Rolen, 3B
Jonny Gomes, CF
Jay Bruce, RF
Drew Stubbs, CF
Ramon Hernandez, C

Potential rotation

Edinson Volquez, RH
Bronson Arroyo, RH
Aaron Harang, RH
Travis Wood, LH

Key relievers

Francisco Cordero, RH (CL)
Arthur Rhodes, LH 
Nick Masset, RH
Aroldis Chapman, LH

Key reserves

Ryan Hanigan, C
Miguel Cairo, INF
Paul Janish, INF
Laynce Nix, OF

Why they’ll win: Some may be surprised to learn that Cincinnati finished the regular season with the most runs in the NL, but the Reds are a very good offensive ballclub despite the lack of sexy names. Whether they hit against the Phillies and, perhaps eventually, the Giants remains to be seen. Their bullpen has some weapons, especially in Chapman — a wild card for this team. 

Why they won’t: Dusty Baker‘s club just has too many inconsistent parts. It starts with Volquez, the Game 1 starter who’s been up-and-down since coming off ’09 Tommy John surgery, and it ends with Cordero, who’s blown eight saves this season. Then you can sprinkle Phillips and others in between. And then there’s this: The Reds went a combined 7-12 against the three other NL playoff teams this season. 
Braves (91-71)

Potential lineup

Omar Infante, 3B

bobby_cox_cigar.jpgJason Heyward, RF

Derrek Lee, 1B
Brian McCann, C
Matt Diaz, LF
Alex Gonzalez, SS
Brooks Conrad, 2B
Rick Ankiel, CF

Potential rotation

Derek Lowe, RH
Tommy Hanson, RH
Tim Hudson, RH
Brandon Beachy, RH

Key relievers

Billy Wagner, LH (CL)
Takashi Saito, RH
Jonny Venters, LH
Peter Moylan, RH

Key reserves

David Ross, C
Troy Glaus, INF
Eric Hinske, INF/OF
Rick Ankiel, OF

Why they’ll win: Because fate says they should, considering this will be Bobby Cox‘s last season at the helm. Need a more concrete reason? The Braves can still pitch with just about anybody, and it can be enough to keep them in contention despite a myriad of injuries. 

Why they won’t: Because of what I just mentioned — injuries. Chipper Jones was first, then Martin Prado, and now Jair Jurrjens has been shaken up and won’t be starting in the NLDS. The Braves’ offense will be relying on an inconsistent Lee, Ankiel, McCann and Gonzalez, and a rookie in Heyward. That’s a lot of question marks that need to turn into solid answers. 

NL CHAMPION: Phillies. 
— Alden Gonzalez

September chock-full of storylines

The best time to be a baseball fan, in my mind, starts right now, when the calendar flips to September, the rosters expand to 40, the trade rumors simmer and each game takes on added playoff intensity. 

The storylines are aplenty this year, with 12 teams within five games of a playoff spot heading into Wednesday. Here are my top 10 … 
10. Skippers trying to shed the “interim” tag
Their clubs may not be heading to the playoffs, but interim managers Edwin Rodriguez (Marlins), Daren Brown (Mariners), Mike Quade (Cubs) and Kirk Gibson (Diamondbacks) are competing for long-term jobs. Per standard protocol, each of their respective clubs have said they’ll be a strong candidate in the interview process, and how their teams play in September could go a long way in that regard. Also consider that several other openings — the Braves, Blue Jays, and possibly the Dodgers and Cardinals, to name a few — will come up this offseason, meaning clubs may be more willing to stick with what they’ve got. 
9. Chapman leads the list of September call-ups
Unfortunately, Tommy John surgery deprived us of watching more of Stephen Strasburg‘s rookie season. But not to worry — Aroldis Chapman and his 100-plus mph fastball from the left side are here to dazzle us. He’ll be something to watch every time he steps out of the Reds’ bullpen. Also look out for John Mayberry Jr. (Phillies), Freddie Freeman (Braves), Desmond Jennings (Rays), Mike Moustakas (Royals) and several other prospects who will be called up this month. 
8. Can Morneau make it back? 
We know Minnesota won’t rush the return of Justin Morneau, who’s recovering from a concussion and has been out since July 7. But the Twins were already dealt a serious blow when closer Joe Nathan‘s elbow gave out in Spring Training, and it’ll be hard to see them advancing deep in the playoffs with Morneau also gone (despite Jim Thome‘s prowess at the plate this season). 
7. Lee and Howard look to reverse struggles
Two of the game’s elites are looking to bounce back from rough Augusts. Cliff Lee had a nightmarish seven starts that month, posting a 1-4 record and a 6.37 ERA, after topping the Majors in WHIP and being nearly unhittable for most of the season. Ryan Howard, meanwhile, missed most of the month while on the DL with a left ankle strain and was batting just .111 with one RBI in his first nine games back before having a nice night against the Dodgers on Tuesday. Deep postseason runs aren’t possible on the Rangers and Phillies without these two in top form. 
6. Low-budget Reds and Padres still doing it
Will that continue? The Reds’ win and the Cardinals’ loss put them a season-high seven games up heading into the month, even though Cincinnati didn’t make much in the form of in-season acquisitions. The Padres have scuffled recently, but they’ve been in first place in the National League West since June 16 and still hold a four-game cushion. It’ll be interesting to see if the Giants can catch up. 
5. Injury-riddled Red Sox march on

Somehow, the Red Sox have managed to stay afloat in the toughest division in baseball despite being completely ravaged by injury this season. Things likely won’t get any better, either, since Jacoby EllsburyDustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis all figure to be out for the year. But the Red Sox have plenty of chances remaining against the Rays and Yankees as the regular season winds down, and history us not to sleep on this team. 
4. Bobby’s swan song
Can Bobby Cox, a sure-shot Hall of Famer, end his brilliant career with yet another playoff appearance? It sure seems that way, even though Chipper Jones has already been lost for the season. The Braves have been in sole possession of first place in the NL East since May 31 and don’t seem to be going anywhere. The health of Derek Lowe‘s elbow — which he says is nothing serious — will be something to monitor down the stretch, as will the production of recently acquired first baseman Derrek Lee, and whether or not Troy Glaus can give Atlanta anything as a third baseman. 
3. Who gets the major awards? 
It’s been one of the most impressive years for National League rookies in quite some time. So, who wins that league’s Rookie of the Year award? (I’m assuming either Austin Jackson or Neftali Feliz in the American League.) Jason HeywardJaime Garcia, Buster Posey, Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez and Strasburg, among others, are candidates. As for the two league MVPs? It’s up for grabs between Robinson Cano, Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera in the AL, while Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Carlos Gonzalez will seemingly battle it out in the NL. The Cy Young, in my mind, will come down to Tim Hudson, Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson, Adam Wainwright, Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Carpenter in the NL; and Clay Buchholz, Felix Hernandez, Trevor Cahill, David Price and C.J. Wilson will go at it in the AL. 
2. The race between the Yankees and Rays
Will any club separate itself in the AL East? The Rays and Yankees were deadlocked for a record-setting eight straight games until the Yankees took a one-game lead on Tuesday night. But this is far from over. The two clubs have been separated by no more than a game since Aug. 15 and are scheduled to meet seven more times before the regular season ends. The Rays lead the season series thus far, 6-5. 
(Here’s a column I wrote on the Rays’ in-it-to-win-it mentality last week.)
1. Manny’s in Chicago
I am of the belief that Manny Ramirez‘s impact on the White Sox will be a great one. One that will get them over the top and into the playoffs, in fact. The skepticism is obvious, but one doesn’t have to look too far back to find a reason to believe. In 2008 — during a contract year, just like this one — Ramirez joined the Dodgers right before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, tore it up and got them in the playoffs. His run with the White Sox starts Wednesday, when he bats fifth and serves as the DH. Considering the Twins’ situation with Morneau, I believe he helps Chicago close the gap on their four-game deficit in the AL Central. Even if he doesn’t, a White Sox team with Ramirez (pictured below; Reuters) and Ozzie Guillen in the same dugout is a must-watch. 
* Here’s a fresh story on contenders gearing up for the stretch run, and look for a column on the five in-season moves that will have the biggest stretch-run impact on the homepage on Thursday. 
Alden Gonzalez
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