Results tagged ‘ Jose Reyes ’

Game 144: Angels-Blue Jays …

Pretty fitting that the Angels and Blue Jays — two clubs with bloated payrolls, high expectations and underachieving 2013 seasons — enter a three-game series at Rogers Centre with the exact same record. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, asked of any similarities between the two teams, said …

“I can only speak from our angle. I don’t want to dissect their team. But I can tell you that no matter what a perceived strength is of a club — and you can talk about payrolls all you want — you’re only going to be as good as your pitching staff is going to allow you. And I think it’s proved its point in the last three weeks, as you guys have seen our team on a daily basis. When we get those starters giving us a chance to win, we’ve set up games the way we’ve needed and we’ve held leads. And that was an issue for long stretches of the season and we paid a price for it. I think it still comes down to the depth and the strength of your pitching staff moving forward. And ours just hasn’t held up the way that we needed to.”

Indeed, the Angels entered Tuesday 28th in the Majors in pitching ERA (4.29). The Blue Jays are 26th (4.26).

Lineups …

Angels (67-76)

ANACollin Cowgill, CF
Erick Aybar, SS
Mike Trout, DH
Mark Trumbo, 1B
Josh Hamilton, LF
Chris Iannetta, C
Kole Calhoun, RF
Grant Green, 2B
Andrew Romine, 3B

Pitching: RH Jerome Williams (6-10, 4.60 ERA)

Blue Jays (67-76)

TORJose Reyes, SS
Ryan Goins, 2B
Brett Lawrie, 3B
Adam Lind, 1B
Rajai Davis, LF
J.P. Arencibia, C
Moises Sierra, RF
Anthony Gose, CF
Kevin Pillar, DH

Pitching: LH Mark Buehrle (11-7, 3.88 ERA)

  • Howie Kendrick was activated for today’s game, but isn’t expected to start at second base until Friday’s series opener in Houston. The Angels want to avoid bringing him back on the turf. Kendrick did some more running in the early afternoon today and feels the left knee is finally 100 percent.
  • Jered Weaver felt some tightness in his right forearm during his start in steamy Minnesota on Monday, but he’s expected to take his next turn through the rotation.
  • Luis Jimenez is still not available. More of an issue right now are his shoulders, which got banged up in a home-plate collision with A.J. Pierzynski on Saturday.
  • Peter Bourjos had successful surgery on his right wrist today. Recovery time is eight weeks.
  • In case you missed it, here’s a story on the Angels’ 2014 schedule.

Alden

Rangers 10, Angels 9 …

Josh Hamilton‘s return — and ensuing home run — was the story, but perhaps the biggest takeaway was Jerome Williams‘ outing.

“Unacceptable,” the Angels’ projected long reliever said after giving up seven runs on 11 hits and retiring only four batters.

Williams came in giving up five earned runs in nine Cactus League innings, walking four and striking out eight, but his last two appearances — which don’t towards those numbers — came in Minor League games because he’s been lining up the same day as Jered Weaver. Angels manager Mike Scioscia was pretty candid, at least by his standards, on Williams’ outing, saying it was “definitely a step back.”

“He was having trouble putting guys away, everything was flat, he wasn’t hitting spots,” Scioscia added. “There’s a lot of things he wasn’t controlling out there. … We need to see him getting ready to get guys out and pitch the way he can, just like anybody else that’s fighting for roles.”

Here’s more on a game that featured both teams’ ‘A’ lineup, for the most part, and ended on a walk-off, three-run double by Leonys Martin

The good

Hamilton got his first game against his former team out of the way. … Well, kind of. The scene at Rangers Ballpark on April 5 figures to be a lot more hostile, the stakes much greater. But still, he went 1-for-3 with a homer, caught up with some ex-‘mates and addressed some of the lingering questions about his return to Texas.

The Angels’ offense displayed its might in the fourth inning, getting homers by Albert Pujols, Hamilton, Howie Kendrick and Hank Conger — they’ve only hit four homers in an inning once in regular-season history, in 2000 — to finish with six runs.

Conger also threw the ball well, picking off a runner at first base and throwing accurately to second on Elvis Andrus‘ successful stolen base. It may not be much, but it’s progress for a guy who has struggled mightily with his throwing this spring.

The bad

Mike Trout slammed into the left-field fence trying to catch a fly ball early in the game, but laughed it off later and said he was fine.

Erick Aybar, returning from a championship run in the WBC, booted a grounder in the second. He hasn’t had much game action at shortstop in a while, with Jose Reyes playing the majority of the time for the Dominican Republic.

Best play (that I saw)

Kendrick made yet another fine play at second, ranging to his right and making an off-balance throw that Pujols fielded on a short-hop.

Best quote

Hamilton, on his return: “It was weird. It was. I mean it was good to play this game. I think it definitely helped, just seeing the guys before the game a little bit, talking to them, and just seeing them over here in that dugout. We’ve had some history. But it was good. It was what I expected. They came out and played. It’s going to be fun this year, to play against them.”

Alden

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 MLB.com beat writers in 2012. You’re the whipped cream on my sundae. 

Alden 

6 divisions in 6 days, Day 1 …

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 1: NL East
Team-wise, perhaps the deepest division in baseball. But there are a lot of players I’m counting on bounceback years from (and that’s not even including Chase Utley)

Manager: Charlie Manuel, PHI

Lineup

Jose Reyes, SS (MIA)
Hanley Ramirez, DH (MIA)
Ryan Howard, 1B (PHI)
Mike Stanton, LF (MIA)
Brian McCann, C (ATL)
David Wright, 3B (NYM)
Danny Espinosa, 2B (WAS)
Jason Heyward, RF (ATL)
Shane Victorino, CF (PHI)

Rotation

Roy Halladay, PHI
Cliff Lee, PHI
Stephen Strasburg, WAS

Bullpen

Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
Craig Kimbrel, ATL

Alden

Too many All-Star no-shows? …

PHOENIX – All-Star Game managers Ron Washington and Bruce Bochy took on a tall order leading up to the Midsummer Classic, and it didn’t end when they submitted their roster selections more than a week ago.

The need for a wide array of substitutions has provided quite the juggling act.

In the week since Major League Baseball announced the players who would make up the National League and American League squads for Tuesday’s 82nd All-Star Game at Chase Field, 17 replacements have been named – 10 in the AL and seven in the NL – including five for the starting lineups.

A lot of those who bowed out of the All-Star Game did so because they pitched on Sunday and were thus ineligible (like Justin Verlander, James Shields, Felix Hernandez, Matt Cain and Cole Hamels); and others are either on the disabled list or sporting serious injuries that have kept them out (like Jose Reyes, Ryan BraunShane Victorino, Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez and Placido Polanco).

Then there are others like David Price, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter – nursing current or past ailments, but not the type that have necessarily put them on the shelf in recent days.

“It’s kind of sad, especially since over the last couple of years it’s been known that this game is going to dictate home-field advantage in the World Series,” said Indians manager Manny Acta, who was selected by Washington to be one of the AL’s coaches. “I can’t speak for people, only they know their own situations, but the fan voting and the player voting, I think it’s very important, and it’s kind of, in a way, disappointing not to see some of those guys. But, again, I can’t speak for those guys that are hurt.”

One of Acta’s players benefited from an absence, as Asdrubal Cabrera was able to get the start at shortstop with Jeter out. With the left side of both teams’ infield dropping out, Adrian Beltre, Scott Rolen and Troy Tulowitzki also got starting nods in place of players the fans voted in.

For the most part, players feel fans just need to accept the fact that last-minute things happen.

“The biggest responsibility for the player is to the teammate he’s playing for,” Rangers DH Michael Young said. “Obviously they have a great responsibility to the fans, but I’m sure they’re taking their fans and their cities under consideration when they make decisions.”

“There are factors right at the end that force them to not come,” White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko added. “People just have to understand that.”

Few players seem to soak in the spotlight of the All-Star Game more than David Ortiz, who will captain the AL squad in the State Farm Home Run Derby and is usually in a playful mood at this time of year. No matter how many times he takes part in this event, the All-Star Game never seems to get old for “Big Papi.”

With black sunglasses, a sharp-looking suit and what seemed like a permanent smile, Ortiz said he believes all his peers share those sentiments.

“Everybody likes to come to the All-Star Game,” he proclaimed. “There’s not one player who wouldn’t like to be here. This is something that every player is looking forward to do. So I’m pretty sure that those guys who have dropped out, they have a reason. It could be injuries, or personal problems. This is like a family thing right now. Everybody wants to bring their family around here, their kids to hang around the players, to put a good show for the fans because the fans spend tons of time voting for you.”

– Alden 

* Filed this week: A look at who could be next to 3,000 hits; Thornburg aims to make impact on Brewers; Astros prospect Altuve not short on talent

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 …

AL MVP

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.

NL MVP 

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. 

My AL & NL lineups differ from yours …

… But only slightly.

See, I never expect perfection when so many fans from so many different places and with so many different biases vote so many times. But, I gotta say, the 32.5 million of you who voted this year didn’t do half-bad. Of course, I would’ve made a few changes.

Here’s my lineup …

American League 

Catcher- Alex Avila, Tigers: Easy choice. Joe Mauer has barely played, Carlos Santana has struggled, and Russell Martin‘s production at the plate went south after a hot start.

First base- Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox: Another no-brainer. He’s fitting in perfectly at Fenway, and if not for a man named Bautista, he’s the best hitter going.

Second base- Robinson Cano, Yankees: Something tells me he’ll be dominating this position for years to come.

Third base- Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: Solid, healthy year — and you can’t say the same about Evan Longoria.

Shortstop- Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians: I’m sorry, but you can’t pick Derek Jeter (pictured above by The Associated Press). I could understand if this was his final year and you want to send him out a la Cal Ripken Jr. But Cabrera has been an offensive and defensive key for the thriving Indians.

Outfield- Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Um, yeah, he’s good.

Outfield- Curtis Granderson, Yankees: Off to one of his best starts while looking very good in that 2 hole.

Outfield- Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: He’s providing what Boston needs from him — getting on base, stealing bases and serving as a steady presence at the top of the order — while putting up power numbers to boot.

Designated hitter- David Ortiz, Red Sox: “Big Papi” needed a good start in his walk year, and he has it.

National League 

Catcher- Brian McCann, Braves: Unreal that he’s made it to six straight All-Star Games and hadn’t started one until this year. Glad that will change.

First base- Joey Votto, Reds: He’s the reigning NL MVP and is off to another great start even if the power numbers aren’t where they were at this point last year. (I know what you’re thinking, but keep reading.)

Second base- Rickie Weeks, Brewers: All-around solid year, and Chase Utley is still working his way back.

Third base- Aramis Ramirez, Cubs: Having a solid year, and for some reason very few realize it.

Shortstop- Jose Reyes, Mets: No doubt about this one. Not sure why it took him so long to pass Troy Tulowitzki.

Outfield- Ryan Braun, Brewers: One of baseball’s best keeps getting better.

Outfield- Matt Kemp, Dodgers: He’s the first half’s NL MVP if not for a guy named Reyes. Looks like a change in managers has done him well, for whatever reason.

Outfield- Lance Berkman, Cardinals: Didn’t expect him to have the first half he’s had, but glad to see I was wrong.

Designated hitter- Prince Fielder, Brewers: Not fair? Hey, it’s my lineup!

– Alden 

** What I wrote this week: Fielder at ease in his walk year; Yankees haven’t stopped winning since being swept by the Red Sox. 

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
aiming
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. 

peavy.jpg

* 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,
Fla.)
: 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
has
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
years. 

* 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
pushing
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
2011. 

* Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan (Fort Myers,
Fla.)
: 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
expecting
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.jpg

* 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
now. 

* 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
Renteria
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
Young

* 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
right
) 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
ready
to have a big year

* Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton (Phoenix,
Ariz.)
: 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
feels
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 

If only the Oakland Athletics had a better stadium

Beane .jpg

Then they’d have at least one big-time middle-of-the-order producer, and then I’d have them as the favorite to win the American League West. Still, the A’s look good, thanks to a phenomenal pitching staff put together by general manager Billy Beane (picture above by The Associated Press). 

Their staff — rotation and bullpen — is as good as anybody’s, and they’re one of the most solid defensive teams in baseball (yes, even though thinking about Josh Willingham patrolling right field at The Coliseum makes me nauseous). 

But they’re one big bat away from being a legit World Series contender, and Kevin Kouzmanoff-Willingham-Hideki Matsui (or however Bob Geren chooses to put together the 3-4-5 spots) is not enough. Don’t believe having one of baseball’s worst (and most hitter-unfriendly) ballparks doesn’t play a part in them not signing a premier slugger? Here’s what Beane expressed earlier this offseason, shortly after his lucrative offer to third baseman Adrian Beltre wasn’t deemed good enough. 
“Honestly, for three years, it’s been a concern,” he said. “It seems to be becoming more and more of a challenge. It’s challenging enough financially given the market we’re in relative to some of our peers, but there’s other parts of the equation that are becoming more challenging. The facility’s a hurdle. It’s a fact.” 
The stadium issue involves several non-baseball-related obstacles that go above our heads and everybody’s on the A’s baseball-operations staff. All you can do is the best with what you’re given, and Beane — Mr. Moneyball — has done a phenomenal job of that. The question is whether a great pitching staff and a makeshift lineup are enough to go all the way (and if the 2010 Giants are any example, it is). 
Regardless of whether or not it will be in 2011, the most important aspect to winning — pitching — looks great in Oakland. Let’s have a look…
STARTERS
* LH Dallas Braden: 11-14, 3.50 ERA while making $420K in ’10; first-year arbitration-eligible. 
* LH Brett Anderson: 7-6, 2.80 ERA in ’10; making $1M in ’11, locked up thru ’15. 
* RH Gio Gonzalez: 15-9, 3.23 ERA while making $405K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until possibly ’13. 
* RH Trevor Cahill: 18-8, 2.97 ERA while making $410K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until ’12. 
RELIEVERS
* RH Andrew Bailey: 1.47 ERA, .959 WHIP, 25-28 saves while making $435K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until ’12. 
* RH Joey Devine: .59 ERA, .832 WHIP, 42 G in ’10; making $557.5K in ’11; free agent after ’13 season. 
* LH Craig Breslow: 3.01 ERA, 1.098 WHIP, 75 G while making $425K in ’10; first-year arbitration-eligible. 
* RH Michael Wuertz: struggled in ’10 (4.31 ERA), but 3.08 ERA while appearing in an average of 58 games from 2006-09; making $2.8M in ’11; locked up thru ’12. 
* RH Brad Ziegler: 3.26 ERA, 1.352 WHIP, 64 G while making $410K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until ’12. 
* LH Jerry Blevins: 3.70 ERA, 1.479 WHIP, 63 G while making $405K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until possibly ’13. 
Sure, the A’s payroll should increase significantly after this season, but that’s a lot of great, young pitching under club control for a while. And then you add the bullpen additions of veteran righty Grant Balfour and (likely) lefty Brian Fuentes, and that’s perhaps the deepest ‘pen in the game. 
Last season, the A’s (81-81) ranked fourth in the Majors in team ERA (3.56), and they could be even better this season. 
Defensively, first baseman Daric Barton (first), catcher Kurt Suzuki, second baseman Mark Ellis (both third), shortstop Cliff Pennington (seventh), third baseman Kouzmanoff and center fielder Coco Crisp (both ninth) all ranked in the Top 10 in voting for Fielding Bible Awards. 
Offensively, though, 22 teams scored more runs, 16 teams had a better batting average and 27 teams hit more homers. I like the David DeJesus signing, and Matsui and Willingham should provide more pop. Will it be enough in that division? I’m not sure. 
But I know one thing: The A’s are well on their way. (If only they had a better venue.)
– Alden Gonzalez
** Check out my column on why Jose Reyes is Sandy Alderson‘s biggest Year 1 question. 

6 Divisions in 6 Days: NL 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 1, we look at the National League East …

Phillies: I see no weaknesses in the back-to-back NL champions. They have arguably the best pitcher in baseball at the top of the rotation, a starting lineup that will scare the bejesus out of you, a great defensive group, options at the back end of their bullpen and incredible depth. Cole Hamels, of course, is the key. Since the Phillies didn’t keep Cliff Lee in the Roy Halladay deal (Phillies fans will debate that for decades), Hamels is the No. 2 starter again despite a rough year in 2009. If Hamels’ comeback is the most important, then that of closer Brad Lidge is 1A. Lidge and lefty J.C. Romero likely won’t be ready for the start of the season, but they’ll join the club soon thereafter. Still, the Phils signed Danys Baez, who also has experience closing out games, and Ryan Madson is there, too, of course. Offensively, uh, yeah, they’re good. I love the addition of Placido Polanco, who is a great No. 2 hitter and allows Shane Victorino to slide down in the order. J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton and possibly Jamie Moyer round out the rotation, which is good enough — at least. Their bench is solid with the addition of Juan Castro and Ross Gload. Defensively, Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Victorino and Jayson Werth are some of the best in the business at their respective positions. So, again, no weaknesses, really. 

1618_NpAdvHover.jpg
Marlins: Ask anybody around the league, and they’ll tell you the Marlins will be a pain in the neck this year — just like they were in 2008, and just like they were in 2009. The Marlins’ brass, however, wants more. They wanted a playoff team with a $30 million payroll, as evidenced by Fredi Gonzalez being put on the hot seat early this offseason despite finishing above .500 and being in contention most of the way last year. Pretty much the same core group is back, with Josh Johnson — fresh off signing a four-year extension — at the top of the rotation and Hanley Ramirez in the middle of the lineup. That young rotation that was the talk of baseball a couple of years ago isn’t looking so good right now, though. While Johnson and Ricky Nolasco give the Marlins a nice one-two punch, there are questions in the other three spots. And their closer, Leo Nunez, has only been one for half a season. The rest of the bullpen is a bit shaky and inexperienced, too. Offensively, they’ll have reigning NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan for a full season. But they need Cameron Maybin to produce as the No. 2 hitter, and I don’t think they have a big enough bat to protect Ramirez in the middle of the order (Jorge Cantu is the guy right now). With a new stadium, and Johnson and Ramirez locked up long-term, the future looks good for the Marlins. 2010? I think they’ll be in it in September, but it’ll be the same story as the last couple of years. This division is too good to win with that payroll. 

Braves: There may be no better starting rotation than the Braves’, and there may be no feel-good story better than the one playing out in Atlanta. Bobby Cox‘s last season. Jason Heyward‘s first. Veteran players making the Braves look legit for the first time in a while. Meant to be? Perhaps. Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Kenshin Kawakami and Jair Jurrjens is flat-out scary. And I like their bullpen. Here’s my problem: The Braves will rely on a cleanup hitter (Troy Glaus) and a closer (Billy Wagner) coming off major surgeries. But they’re deep in the ‘pen, and the offense is pretty good, with Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Heyward (what a phenomenal player he is) and Yunel Escobar. Oh, and Wagner and Glaus have each looked good this spring. I have questions about Nate McLouth as the leadoff hiter (and Melky Cabrera seemingly being the No. 2 option), and their infield defense is shaky with Jones at third, Glaus at first, McCann behind the plate and Martin Prado at second base. But the more I see this team, the more I like it. 

Mets: Meet the Mess! Once again, the Amazin’s have a nice-looking squad on paper, but who knows what you’ll get out of them? They already know Carlos Beltran won’t start the season healthy, nor will expected setup man Kelvim Escobar, and Jose Reyes probably won’t, either. But they still have Johan Santana at the top of their rotation, they still have Jason Bay in the middle of their order, and neither Beltran nor Reyes are expected to miss much time. The Mets will of course be a much better offensive club than last year’s rag-tag group, but I’d worry about their rotation. After Santana, there are four solid question marks in Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, Oliver Perez and Jon Niese. Also, who will be the bridge to Francisco Rodriguez? There’s a flame-throwing prospect by the name of Jenrry Mejia who has drawn comparisons to Doc Gooden. He won’t start the season as the eighth-inning man, but that may be his role eventually. Once again, the Mets have the potential to be great and catastrophic, all at the same time. One thing that’s certain: It should be interesting. 

Nationals: Mike
Rizzo
has done a pretty descent job in his short time as the Nats’ general manager. He acquired pitching help in Jason Marquis (though he’s not an ace by any stretch), got a solid catcher who can mentor Jesus Flores in Ivan Rodriguez (I don’t know about giving him two years and $6 million, however), went hard after Orlando Hudson (but he had to settle for Adam Kennedy at second base), came to terms with top pitching prospects Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, and he made the bold — and surprising — move of releasing Elijah Dukes, getting rid of a supreme talent but a perceived clubhouse cancer. Think again, though, if you think the Nats can go from 103 losses to playoff contention in one season. They’re at least another year away. I really like their lineup, with Nyjer Morgan at the top, and Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and a healthy Josh Willingham in the middle. And I like rookie Ian Desmond‘s defense at shortstop. But that starting rotation, led by John Lannan, is still shaky at best. And despite adding guys like Brian Bruney and Matt Capps, there’s no legit closer, and the bullpen should struggle as a unit. But expect progress. 
NL East champion: Phillies
NL Wild Card: Braves
– Alden Gonzalez

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