Results tagged ‘ Dustin Pedroia ’

Mike Trout’s jersey cracks Top 20 …

The latest list of most popular jerseys was unveiled on Thursday morning, and Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz ranks first. That’s no surprise, given that numbers are based on sales in the offseason, after the 2013 World Series was concluded. Naturally, teammate and fellow champion Dustin Pedroia ranks second.

Mike Trout, meanwhile, ranks 14th. When the previous list came out in late September, based on sales following the 2013 All-Star Game, Trout was 10th. Both seem a little low for the game’s best all-around player and potential “face of baseball.” But overall team popularity plays a huge part in these numbers, which is a big reason why the Red Sox (3), Yankees (2), Dodgers (2), Cardinals (2) and Rangers (2) have more than one current representative.

Here’s the full list …

1. Ortiz
2. Pedroia
3. Derek Jeter (NYY)
4. Yadier Molina (StL)
5. Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
6. Andrew McCutchen (PIT)
7. Buster Posey (SFG)
8. David Wright (NYM)
9. Robinson Cano (NYY/SEA)
10. Manny Machado (BAL)
11. Yasiel Puig (LAD)
12. Bryce Harper (WAS)
13. Miguel Cabrera (DET)
14. Trout
15. Matt Harvey (NYM)
16. Prince Fielder (DET/TEX)
17. Adam Wainwright (StL)
18. Koji Uehara (BOS)
19. Yu Darvish (TEX)
20. Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS/NYY)


Game 86: Red Sox-Angels …

The Angels are hosting the Red Sox for their final home series before the All-Star break. And both teams have won eight of their last nine games. Should be fun.

Lineups …

Red Sox (53-34)

BOSTONJacoby Ellsbury, CF
Shane Victorino, RF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Mike Napoli, DH
Jonny Gomes, LF
Daniel Nava, 1B
Brandon Snyder, 3B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Jose Iglesias, SS

SP: RH Felix Doubront (4-3, 4.22 ERA)

Angels (41-44)

angelslogo2J.B. Shuck, LF
Mike Trout, CF
Albert Pujols, DH
Mark Trumbo, 1B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Josh Hamilton, RF
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
Erick Aybar, SS

SP: LH C.J. Wilson (8-5, 3.63 ERA)

  • Jerome Williams, who threw 55 pitches on Tuesday, will take the ball against the Red Sox on Saturday. He’ll be on two-days’ rest, but Williams doesn’t feel very tired because he basically had half an outing on Wednesday — and he says his arm is never tired. The other option was Michael Roth, but Mike Scioscia chose to go with Williams on short rest, partly because the off-days on Monday and Thursday allow him to buy some time. Angels won’t need a fifth starter by July 23, and perhaps by that time Tommy Hanson and/or Jason Vargas will be back.
  • Hamilton is batting sixth, one day after tying the game with a home run. For now, at least, Scioscia likes flip-flopping Trumbo and Hamilton in the order depending on whether it’s a lefty or righty starting.
  • Asked Scioscia today about the possibility of moving Trout to the No. 3 spot and temporarily moving Pujols (3-for-31 in his last eight games) down in the order to relieve some pressure off him. Looks like that is not going to happen in the near future. Here’s what Scioscia said: “When Mike goes to the 3-spot, we’re going to re-work a lot of the lineup. I think you’re definitely looking for some table-setters in the 1 and 2 spot if you have Mike in the 3 spot. I’m not sure we have that much depth right now. I think with Albert, it’s just a matter of time before he’s doing some of the things we need. He’s had a rough stretch his last 30 or 40 at-bats, but he’s still a presence in the lineup and we’re still winning games. We definitely need his production. I think that you’re only going to dramatically change a lineup if it’s for the greater good of the whole group. And I’m not sure if there’s any lineups that we’ve looked at that would move Albert out of that hole that are going to move us ahead at this point right now.”
  • Hanson played catch for a second time today since landing on the DL with a forearm strain.
  • Peter Bourjos will spend next week rehabbing his injured wrist in Arizona.


Question of the Day, 6/14 …

Logically, how many Angels could be All-Stars in this bad first half as a team? — @JcHc3in1

Well, I expect Mike Trout to finish among the top three outfielders in fan votes — he was second when the most recent update came out last Saturday — making him the first Angels position player to start the All-Star Game since Vladimir Guerrero in 2007. After that, it’s tough. I think Howie Kendrick (.328/.370/.480) deserves to make it, but it’s tough with Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia in the same league. And Mark Trumbo (.270/.344/.506) certainly can once again. Pitching-wise, the only one I can see with a shot is Jason Vargas (5-4, 3.74 ERA), unless Jered Weaver (only five starts) is picked based on track record. I’d be surprised if anyone else makes it. Albert Pujols (nine-time All-Star) is in danger of missing out for the third straight year, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any chance Josh Hamilton (starter each of the last five seasons) is picked.


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 131: Red Sox-Angels …

With a win tonight, the Angels can sweep their first season series against the Red Sox in club history. The Angels have won seven straight against Boston dating back to May 4 of last year, representing their third-longest winning streak ever against them. While going 5-0 against the Red Sox this year — sweeping a three-game set at Fenway Park at the start of last week, taking the first two here — the Angels have outscored them 42-27.

Red Sox (62-69)

Scott Podsednik, LF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
James Loney, 1B
Cody Ross, RF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, DH
Ryan Lavarnway, C
Mike Aviles, SS
Pedro Ciriaco, 3B

Pitching: LH Jon Lester (8-10, 4.98 ERA)

Angels (68-62)

Mike Trout, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Albert Pujols, DH
Mark Trumbo, 1B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Erick Aybar, SS
Maicer Izturis, 3B
Vernon Wells, LF
Chris Iannetta, C

Pitching: RH Zack Greinke (2-2, 5.22 ERA)

  • No further updates on Scott Downs, who left the team Sunday night and was placed on the family medical emergency list prior to their next game. Mike Scioscia spoke to him, but wouldn’t go into details about his situation. Asked if he could return for the weekend series against the Mariners, Scioscia said: “We’ll see. It’s going to be one step at a time with Downs. We’ll just see whenever he’s ready to go.”
  • Pujols, as you probably noticed, is at DH for the third straight game since returning from a right calf injury on Tuesday. Still no word on when he’ll return to first base, but Scioscia was thinking he could take grounders pregame.
  • It seems like the Angels’ rotation (minus the one constant, Jered Weaver) struggled mightily as a group, and recently has turned it around as a group. Over a 44-game stretch beginning in July, they combined to post a 5.48 ERA that ranked 13th in the American League. Over their last eight games, it’s been a 4.18 (with the Angels going 6-2 in that span). Not great, but not terrible. Along the way, Ervin Santana has been much better, with C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Greinke each coming off starts you can consider a step forward. “I think there’s definitely some positive momentum that can be created, but one good thing about it is the teams we’ve had here, we’ve always been able to limit the downside of some of the things going on here because we’ve had, especially on the pitching side, we’ve had deep staffs that can go out there and limit some stuff. And that’s what we anticipated this year. We just haven’t seen it as much as we need to.” Maybe they’re starting to?
  • Kendrick heads into today’s game riding a 15-game hitting streak (three shy of his career-high) and is batting .344 in August. Quietly, his slash line is .292/.332/.405 for the year. “It’s just been a process, trying to get better. I’ve just been watching some of the guys around me, getting ideas from them, and just trying to get better overall. Trying to be more patient at the plate has helped. And just getting pitches to hit.” More on him later.


Game 130: Red Sox-Angels …

Red Sox (62-68)

Pedro Ciriaco, 3B
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Cody Ross, RF
Ryan Lavarnway, C
Mauro Gomez, 1B
Mike Aviles, DH
Jose Iglesias, SS
Scott Podsednik, LF

Pitching: RH Zach Stewart (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Angels (67-62)

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

Pitching: LH C.J. Wilson (9-9, 3.83 ERA)

  • C.J. Cron came into Wednesday with 123 RBIs for Class A Inland Empire, one shy of the Angels’ Minor League record. And it’ll stay that way. Cron decided to undergo season-ending labrum surgery on his right shoulder Wednesday. Angels assistant general manager Scott Servais expects him to return early next season, but his timeline is still very much uncertain.
  • Still no word on when Scott Downs will return from his stint on the family medical emergency list, manager Mike Scioscia said.
  • Arizona Fall League rosters were announced. Representing the Angels will be infielder Kaleb Cowart, outfielders Randal Grichuk and Travis Witherspoon, catcher Carlos Ramirez (taxi squad), and pitchers Buddy Boshers, Ryan Chaffee, Kevin Johnson and Nick Maronde. They’ll play for the Scottsdale Scorpions.


Game 129: Red Sox-Angels …

Coming off a 4-2 road trip, and back-to-back losses to put a sour end to it, the Angels return home (rather briefly). They’ll play three against the Red Sox team they swept at Fenway Park last week before opening up a six-game road trip through Seattle and Oakland.

“That was a tough loss, Saturday was,” veteran outfielder Torii Hunter said. “Sunday, we were either going to hit him [Max Scherzer] or we weren’t. But Saturday, I think we should’ve come through with that game. We had the lead in the eighth inning and just blew it.”

But  with his team still 4 1/2 out of the Wild Card and a solid 10 games back in the AL West, Hunter prefers to look at the positive.

“Four of six on the road,” he said. “That’s pretty good for baseball. And now we’re coming home with four [wins] in our last six, it’s just like we won two series.”

Red Sox (62-67)

Scott Podsednik, LF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Ryan Lavarnway, C
James Loney, 1B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, DH
Ryan Kalish, RF
Jose Iglesias, SS
Pedro Ciriaco, 3B

Pitching: RH Clay Buchholz (11-4, 4.47 ERA)

Angels (66-62)

Mike Trout, CF
Hunter, RF
Albert Pujols, DH
Kendrys Morales, 1B
Mark Trumbo, LF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Maicer Izturis, 3B
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C

Pitching: RH Jered Weaver (16-3, 2.74 ERA)

  • Pujols still doesn’t feel 100 percent, but he showed enough during some pregame agility and baserunning drills to return to the lineup for the first time since suffering an injury to his right calf at Fenway Park on Wednesday. “Obviously, I’m not where I want to be,” Pujols said, “but it’s good to be back in the lineup. I’m still going to be taking it easy. It doesn’t bother me swinging, but running I’m still a little bit sore.”
  • Asked when he could return to first base, Pujols said: “I don’t have a magic ball, so whenever I feel good. If it’s tomorrow, where I can go and take some grounders and feel good, I’ll go and play my position. But I don’t think that’s a problem here. We have two good first basemen here who can play the position, so as long as I’m in the lineup, that’s more important than anything else.”
  • Mike Scioscia couldn’t divulge much regarding Scott Downsdeparture from the team, saying only: “Right now we’re not sure [how long he’ll be out]. Hopefully as a little time goes on, we’ll get a little more clarity as to Scott’s situation.” Downs left Sunday night, flying back home to Kentucky.
  • Without Downs, and with Hisanori Takahashi being claimed by the Pirates on Friday, the Angels have no lefties in their bullpen. The Red Sox, at least, are without lefty sluggers David Ortiz (DL) and Adrian Gonzalez (trade).
  • Garrett Richards has had three stints as a reliever. One went well (a two-out save against the Tigers on Friday), but he gave up two runs to the Red Sox on Thursday and three to the Tigers on Saturday. Asked about his bullpen role moving forward, Scioscia said: “I think he’s got a power arm that can possibly play in the back end of a ‘pen. We’ll slot him in where we think he can help us, depending on who’s available on a given night.”


Star gazing as we approach vernal equinox

Spring Training .jpg

NOT FLORIDA — I won’t make it down to Florida for Spring Training until early March, but I’m sure the Grapefruit League will be fine without me. A lot happened this offseason, and there’s a lot to watch this spring, especially among the upper-echelon guys. So, I thought I’d put together an easy-to-follow guide. Print it out, fold it up and put it in the back pocket of your Bermuda shorts as you weave through camps this spring. 

Here goes nothin’

Coming back from injury

Star players whose 2010 seasons ended on the shelf

* Chipper Jones (Lake Buena Vista, Fla.):
It looked like Chipper’s career would be over when the 38-year-old tore his ACL
in August, but now he’s
to be ready for Opening Day
. If he’s healthy and contributing — even if it’s not at an
All-Star level — the Braves are title contenders. 


* Stephen Strasburg (Viera, Fla.):
Strasburg’s meteoric rise came to a screeching halt with the dreaded Tommy John
surgery in August. He won’t be ready until September, but he has already been tossing a ball
, and Tommy John has a pretty good
track record with regards to comebacks. 

* Jason Bay and Johan Santana (Port St. Lucie,
: Bay’s rough first season in Queens was put out of its misery
when a concussion ended his season in late July, and now the right-handed power
hitter must prove he could succeed within the spacious dimensions of Citi Field. Santana’s
season was cut short last year because of left shoulder surgery and he isn’t
expected back until midseason, though he
begun throwing at his Fort Myers, Fla., home
. The Mets need Santana to return to full health, since he’s still owed at least $77.5 million over the next four

* Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby
Ellsbury (Fort Myers, Fla.)
: The healthy returns of Youkilis
(thumb), Pedroia (foot) and Ellsbury (ribs) will be key if the Red Sox are
going to cash in on widespread expectations of an American League crown
(including from me).
Youkilis and Pedroia both say they’re feeling good,
and Ellsbury is expected to be ready to go from the jump. But can they continue
to produce at the same level? 

* Jake Peavy (Glendale, Ariz.):
Injuries have limited Peavy to 33 starts the last two years, and shoulder
surgery knocked him out in early July last year. Peavy (pictured above) is
to be ready by Opening Day
, but the White Sox will be cautious — because they know that
even with all the success they’ve had this offseason, Peavy may still be the key in

* Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan (Fort Myers,
: Even without their biggest run producer and closer — and
thanks to the services of Jim Thome
and key bullpen additions — the Twins were the first team to clinch a playoff
spot last year. This year, the comebacks of
Morneau (concussion) and Nathan (Tommy John surgery) will be vital
for success in an improved AL Central. 

* Brandon Webb (Surprise, Ariz.):
Nobody is expecting him to fill the void of
Cliff Lee, but it’d be nice if Webb could retain some of what made
him one of baseball’s best pitchers two years ago and help shore up a pretty
questionable Rangers rotation. Webb, coming off shoulder surgery, has made
exactly one Major League start since the end of the ’08 season. 

* Grady Sizemore (Goodyear, Ariz.):
This is a big year for Sizemore, who was one of baseball’s best center fielders
from 2005-08 but has been derailed by injuries the last two seasons. An Opening
Day return still seems possible. But can he return to form after knee surgery? 

* Kendry Morales (Tempe, Ariz.):
That offensive spark the Angels sought this offseason could be fixed by the
healthy return of Morales, whose season ended in late May after an awkward
landing at home plate caused a serious leg injury. He is
a full recovery

New in town

Notable offseason pickups and their new homes 

* Dan Uggla (Lake Buena Vista, Fla.):
Love Dan, but I feel like the Braves will regret that five-year, $62 million
extension down the road (and I know I’m not alone). Still, he’s the
right-handed power hitter they sought this offseason, and he helps make them a force. 


* Lee (Clearwater, Fla.): OK, so Lee (pictured left) is not really new. But
he’s back in Philly (or, for now, Clearwater). And thanks to him taking less
money — though nobody’s bringing out the violin for a $120 million player —
the Phillies have arguably the best rotation foursome in baseball history. 

* Jayson Werth (Viera, Fla.): One of
the most scrutinized contracts of the offseason was the seven-year, $126
million one signed by Werth. Now, he’ll try to prove he’s worthy of being one
of the highest-paid players. It’ll be interesting to see if he can without the benefits
Philly brought him — a star-studded lineup loaded with lefty sluggers and a
hitter-friendly park (though Nats Park isn’t bad for hitters, either). 

* Rafael Soriano (Tampa, Fla.):
Soriano was a great closer for the Rays last year, and now he’s a $35 million
setup man. That’s pricey, but the Yankees have the eighth and ninth locked down

* Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez (Fort
Myers, Fla.)
: Nobody had a more successful offseason than the Red
Sox, which added Crawford (seven years, $142 million) and Gonzalez (extension
pending) and now have one of the game’s best offenses. Fenway Park should prove
very friendly for both. 

* Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez (Port
Charlotte, Fla.)
: I don’t know about Manny and Johnny making the
Rays elite again, but they’ll surely make things entertaining in St. Pete. And
they were cheap (Damon at $5.25 million, Ramirez at $2 million). 

* Vladimir Guerrero (Sarasota, Fla.):
Quietly, the Orioles look to have one of baseball’s best offenses. The addition
of Guerrero 
— signed to a one-year, $8 million deal — as the designated hitter is just one of many reasons why. 

* Adam Dunn (Glendale, Ariz.): The
White Sox needed a big lefty bat for the middle of the order, and they got one
in Dunn — signed to a four-year, $56 million deal. Dunn should thrive in U.S.
Cellular Field, especially while hitting in such a dangerous lineup. 

* Victor Martinez (Lakeland, Fla.):
V-Mart, a switch-hitting catcher who can also play first base and DH, was a
nice pickup for the Tigers at four years and $50 million. They should be in the
hunt in the AL Central all year. 

* Lance Berkman (Jupiter, Fla.):
Berkman was an interesting signing for the Cardinals, especially at $8 million
guaranteed. If he reverts to pre-2010 form, it’s a bargain. If he doesn’t, it’s
a mistake signing at a time when the club can’t really afford any (see: Albert Pujols extension). 

* Zack Greinke (Phoenix, Ariz.): The
Brewers, thanks to the acquisition of Greinke, now boast one of the deepest and
best rotations in baseball. The best part about it is they didn’t really give
away any premier prospects in the process. 

* Matt Garza (Mesa, Ariz.): Garza
may not be an ace, but he’s a solid pitcher who’s been very consistent the
last few years. He gives the Cubs significant depth in their rotation. 

* Miguel Tejada (Scottsdale, Ariz.):
The defending champions will have a 36-year-old manning shortstop. Tejada gives
them a bit more punch than Edgar
and Juan Uribe
— maybe — but a left side of the infield with Tejada and Pablo Sandoval will be, ahem,
interesting to watch. 

* Adrian Beltre (Surprise, Ariz.):
The Beltre signing — for five years at $80 million — gives the Rangers an
instant upgrade at third base (at least defensively). But does it make them a better team overall? Not
if it ends up costing them Michael

* Vernon Wells (Tempe, Ariz.): It
was seen as a desperation move in many circles, and it surely is costly. But if
Wells — still owed $86 million the next four years — can repeat his 2010 performance, the Angels can stay in
the hunt in the AL West. 

Back to elite status? 

Elite players who had a down year — by their standards — in 2010 

Hanley .jpg

* Hanley Ramirez (Jupiter, Fla.): By his
standards, Ramirez’s 2010 — .300 batting average, 21 homers, 76 RBIs, 32
stolen bases and one public bout with his manager — was a down one for the
star shortstop. Could Hanley (pictured
) return to being the National League’s best shortstop, or has Troy Tulowitzki permanently taken that
crown from him? 

* Carlos Pena (Mesa, Ariz.): Pena
has averaged 36 homers and 102 RBIs over the last four seasons, but last year’s
.196 batting average was an embarrassment. Perhaps being reunited with his old
hitting coach,
Rudy Jaramillo,
in Chicago can make a difference. 

* Justin Upton (Scottsdale, Ariz.):
Is this the year Upton finally proves he’s a franchise-type player? Last year,
when he hit .273 with 16 homers and 79 RBIs, he wasn’t, and it led to new general
manager Kevin Towers listening to offers for his right fielder.
But Upton has all the tools, and he says he’s
to have a big year

* Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton (Phoenix,
: Broxton’s 4.04 ERA in 2010 was by far his highest in five full seasons in the Majors, and Kemp’s .249 batting average was a big
shock. Perhaps a new skipper could do the trick? 

* Sandoval (Scottsdale, Ariz.): Can
he return to being the “Big Panda” of 2009, the one who hit .330 with
25 homers and 90 RBIs? The Giants will need him to in hopes of repeating. And it
seems he
the same way

* Chone Figgins (Peoria, Ariz.): Maybe there was just something in the water in Seattle last year that caused everyone to struggle at the plate. Nonetheless, Figgins had a rather unimpressive showing in his first year with his new team, sporting career-lows in batting average (.259) and on-base percentage (.340). Now, he’s dealing with trade rumors

* Jose Reyes (Port St. Lucie, Fla.): An assortment of injuries limited Reyes the last few years and greatly diminished his production. Now, he says he’s feeling good, and he’s entering his walk year. Big year for the speedy shortstop.

* Derrek Lee (Sarasota, Fla.): Lee hit .310 and averaged 26 homers and 84 RBIs from 2005-09. But a bad back limited him to a .260 batting average, 19 homers and 80 RBIs in 2010. Now, he’s in Baltimore on a one-year, $7.25 million contract. 

* Phillies’ middle infield (Clearwater, Fla.): Chase Utley (.275 with 16 homers and 65 RBIs) and Jimmy Rollins (.320 on-base percentage and eight homers in 88 games) are coming off down years. They’ll need to step up now that Werth is gone. 

* Red Sox starters (Fort Myers, Fla.): Mainly, the two veterans — Josh Beckett and John Lackey. Regardless of all the moves the Red Sox made on offense and in the bullpen, starting pitching always wins out (see: 2010 Giants). So, the success of this 2011 team will ultimately begin and end with the effectiveness of that staff. Beckett (6-6, 5.78 ERA) and Lackey (14-11, 4.40 ERA) need to be better. 

* Yankees infield (Tampa, Fla.): Well, at least three-quarters of it. All eyes are on Derek Jeter, who’s 36, coming off his worst year and recently signed to a three-year, $51 million contract with a fourth-year option. Rightfully so. But Alex Rodriguez (career-low .270 batting average) and Mark Teixeira (career-low .256 batting average) need to be more efficient to help make up for a shaky rotation in the Bronx. 

— Alden Gonzalez

** Check out my take on why greed shouldn’t be to blamed in the situations of Albert Pujols and Young. 

*** And check in next week, for a look at the most important Spring Training position battles.  

**** Photo credit above: The Associated Press 

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

6 Divisions in 6 Days: AL East

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 2, we look at the American League East …

Yankees: They added Javier Vazquez to a starting rotation that was already one of the best; they still have the automatic Mariano Rivera in the back end of a bullpen that will only 

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benefit from one more year in the setup role for Joba Chamberlain (it seems inevitable that he’ll be the eighth-inning man); and despite not having Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui, that offense is still one of the scariest. But that’s also the place that nurses my only real concern. The loss of Damon makes me question that top of the order. Derek Jeter did a great job at the leadoff spot last year, but I don’t like somebody his age being counted on to play the physically demanding position of shortstop and lead off. At the two-spot, Nick Johnson reminds me of Bobby Abreu because of his ability to take pitches and get on base. But he can break down any day. Plus, the loss of Matsui has them without a true No. 5 hitter to complement Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and round out the middle of the order. (Are Curtis Granderson or Robinson Cano real forces there?) But let’s not complicate this: The Yankees have the pitching to shut down any lineup and the offense to light up any ace. Yeah, the defending champions are great again. 

Red Sox: With the addition of ace John Lackey, their rotation is up there with the Yankees as the best in baseball. And they’re now at the top of the league defensively, too, with Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron in the mix. But the question among Boston fans is, Can they hit for power? My question is this: Do they even have to? They have power threats in Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez. But, yeah, they need David Ortiz to somewhat resemble the Big Papi of old. Maybe not the 54-homer guy, but definitely better than the .238-batting-average guy. Still, with a rotation that includes, Lackey, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, a bullpen that’s still among the best in the league, premium defensive players at every position and several high-on-base guys in the lineup — add Marco Scutaro, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew to that mix — the Red Sox are a force once again. 

Rays: It’s too bad the Rays don’t play in another division (I think they’re champs in the AL Central, AL West and National League West). I like this team — a lot. Kudos to the young Andrew Friedman for fielding a quality 25-man roster with that payroll. That starting rotation — with Matt Garza, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis — is legitimately five-deep. The lineup is nice with Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria and two very underrated guys — Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist. And Rafael Soriano is a significant upgrade over J.P. Howell in the ninth inning. They’ll need B.J. Upton to figure it out, and I think he will, making Tampa Bay solid in every aspect. Better than the Red Sox and Yankees? Unfortunately for fans of the underdog, probably not. 

Blue Jays: Alex Anthopoulos has made some progress in his first year as general manager, but there’s a whole lot that needs fixing if this team is going to be considered any kind of threat in the toughest division in baseball. Priority No. 1: Get rid of that horrible contract that belongs to Vernon Wells. He’s owed $98.5 million over the next five years and coming off a .260 batting average and 15 homers in 2009. They’ll need a solid season from Wells if they want to find somebody who would take on that contract without forcing the Jays to eat up almost all of
it. Anthopoulos did manage to move the salary of
Roy Halladay — though he’s still paying him $6 million this year — and got some nice prospects in return, like Kyle Drabek and, eventually, Brett Wallace. As for this year? Well, they have the same problems most rebuilding teams face. They don’t have an ace, there’s no legit closer in the back end of the bullpen — though there may be two or three nice options — and that lineup is less than formidable. (Jose Bautista as the leadoff hitter?) I don’t know that they’re the worst team in baseball, but considering the 25-man roster they sport and the division they play in, this may be the worst team record-wise when it’s all set and done. 

Orioles: They’ll be better, that’s for sure. After losing 98 games last year to sport the worst record in the AL, they may even improve to the .500 mark. But they won’t really compete yet, so let’s start with the future. It’s getting there. Corner infielders Josh Bell and Brandon Snyder, plus current young studs in center fielder Adam Jones, catcher Matt Wieters and right fielder Nick Markakis means that offense is not far away from being very legit (don’t forget Brian Roberts is locked up through 2013, too). Pitching-wise, guys like Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and potential closer Jim Johnson (we’ll see) give the staff promise. In the mean time, GM Andy MacPhail did a nice job of getting some stopgap guys to make sure they don’t reside in the basement of the AL once again, with Kevin Millwood, Miguel Tejada and Mike Gonzalez. Yeah, things are getting better in Baltimore. Just be patient. 
AL East champion: Yankees
AL Wild Card: Red Sox

— Alden Gonzalez
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