Tag:Lance Berkman
Posted on: April 16, 2011 1:18 am
 

3 up, 3 down for 4/15: Charlie in charge

By Matt Snyder

3UP

Charlie Morton, Pirates. He was one out away from a shutout of the Reds at Great American Ball Park. Jay Bruce homered, but that didn't stop Morton from finishing the complete-game gem. He only gave up five hits and two walks while suffocating a pretty solid offense (granted, Brandon Phillips was out). He entered the game with a 2.08 ERA, but had walked 10 hitters with only three strikeouts. Friday, Morton improved significantly, striking out three to those two walks.

Justin Masterson, Indians. That ERA now reads 1.33. Masterson held down the Orioles through seven innings, only giving up four hits and a run. He has been absolutely brilliant thus far in 2011, as has his team. The Indians are 9-4 and tied for first with the Royals (what is this, the bizarro AL Central?).

Cardinals offense. Lance Berkman was supposed to be cooked, instead he's hit six home runs this week, after his two-HR night Friday. Albert Pujols was scuffling a bit to open to the season, but everyone with a brain knew it was only a matter of time. Well, that time has arrived. He's hit three homers in his past two games, including two Friday night. Colby Rasmus, Yadier Molina, David Freese and Matt Holliday are raking and the Cardinals are now the first team since the 2000 Tigers to collect at least 15 hits in four straight games. During that span, they've scored 43 runs.

3DOWN

Bobby Jenks, Red Sox. Pretty disgusting outing for the big man. It reads: walk, single, strikeout, single, single, single -- with a stolen base and wild pitch intertwined. He left with just 1/3 of an inning worked while having allowed four runs. The 2-10 Red Sox lost by one. But don't take my word for how bad Jenks was, you can get it straight from the horse's mouth: "I flat out stunk tonight." (Boston Herald )

Nick Blackburn, Twins. It still amazes me how quickly he nailed down a rotation spot in the spring while Kevin Slowey was sent to the bullpen. But we're past that now. Friday night, against a Rays lineup with Matt Joyce and Felipe Lopez making up the 3-4 hitters, Blackburn was shelled. He coughed up 10 hits and five earned runs in six innings, as the Twins fell to 4-9.

Erik Bedard, Mariners. I'm glad he's healthy, because no one should wish all the rehab he's gone through the past few years on anyone. Still, Bedard is clearly struggling to work back to form. He needed 106 pitches just to get through 4 2/3 innings, while giving up seven hits, three walks and four earned runs. This was against a Royals lineup sans Alex Gordon and Wilson Betemit (before you laugh, check out their numbers thus far).

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Posted on: April 14, 2011 1:58 am
 

3 up, 3 down for 4/13: Johnson's no-no bid

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Josh Johnson3UP

Josh Johnson, Marlins -- It's no surprise when Florida's Josh Johnson flirts with a no-hitter. He's the type of pitcher it seems like he'll throw one one of these days, maybe even in his next start. On opening day he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and Wednesday night he took one into the eighth inning before Freddie Freeman doubled with one out in the eighth.

Lance Berkman, Cardinals -- Berkman homered for his third consecutive game and made it count, launching a grand slam in the second inning of the Cardinals' 15-5 victory over the Diamondbacks.  He also had an RBI ground-out in the two-run first. Over the last three games he's 6 for 13 with four homers and 10 RBI. He had just six hits in the first eight games of his Cardinals tenure.

Brian Wilson, Giants -- Before Wednesday night's game against the Dodgers, manager Bruce Bochy said closer Brian Wilson was cleared to pitch back-to-back nights. Tuesday he picked up his first save of the season, Wednesday it was his second. After starting the season on the disabled list and then two bad outings, Wilson looks like his old self again, working perfect innings for the save each of the last two nights.

3DOWN

Nick Masset, Reds -- With Ozzie Guillen picking on the White Sox bullpen, we'll avoid doing so. But we'll still point out a former White Sox reliever, Masset, who blew a save for the third straight game on Wednesday. He had some help from an error by catcher Ryan Hanigan and came in with a runner on in the eighth inning, but he then gave up the winning run in the ninth. The Reds rebounded from his blown save on Tuesday to win in extras. Masset now has an ERA of 9.95 in five appearances (his ERA actually went down with Wednesday's performance). Masset had an ERA of 11.32 after April last season before finishing at 3.40 and as one of the Reds' top performers in the bullpen.

Juan Pierre, White Sox -- Pierre's not having a good week. On Monday, Pierre dropped a fly ball, leading to a White Sox loss. On Wednesday, he was 3 for 4 and reached base five times, but was picked off twice and picked up his third error of the season. Pierre had made just one error in each of the last two seasons.

Attendance -- If Johnson had thrown a no-hitter in Atlanta on Wednesday, he would have done it in front of the second-smallest crowd in Turner Field history. Only Tuesday's crowd of 13,865 was less than the 14,351 for Wednesday's game. The Pirates played in front of the seventh-smallest crowd in PNC Park history, 8,755.

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Posted on: April 12, 2011 1:21 am
Edited on: April 12, 2011 2:03 am
 

3 up, 3 down for 4/11: Pitching driving Tribe

By Matt Snyder

3UP

Mitch Talbot, Indians. Actually, we could put the entire Tribe starting rotation here. It's been incredible during the eight-game Cleveland winning streak. During that span, Talbot, Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona, Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin have combined for a 1.55 ERA (hat-tip to Jordan Bastian ). Monday it was Talbot's turn, and he went eight shutout innings, allowing the Angels only five hits and two walks while striking out four. He was given four runs by his offense in the first two innings and cruised to victory.

Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies. The shortstop got his team on the scoreboard with an RBI single in the third, kept the Mets off the board with an incredible defensive play to end the seventh and then hit a two-run shot in the eighth that would prove to be the eventual difference in a 7-6 Rockies win.

Lance Berkman, Cardinals. When he came to bat in the seventh, he was still without his first home run as a Cardinal. Before the game was over, he had two.

3DOWN

Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox. I tweeted during the game that the difference in Josh Beckett's stuff from Sunday night to Dice-K's stuff Monday was like going from varsity to junior high. Allow me to alter that sentiment. It was more like varsity to little league. There's just no bite on any of his pitches and he doesn't even seem to command anything well. He somehow made it through two innings, giving up eight hits, seven earned runs, two home runs and two walks.

Juan Pierre, White Sox. Yes, Pierre had to run a long way. Yes, Matt Thornton has now blown three saves without converting any. Still, Pierre needs to make that catch on the warning track. If it happens, maybe Thornton finally gets off the schneid with his first save. Instead, the White Sox lose in extra innings. And, by the way, that was the second time Pierre's dropped a fly with Thornton on the hill this season.

Felix Hernandez, Mariners. It was a rare off-night for the King. He was battered by the Blue Jays to the tune of seven earned runs on 12 hits in six innings. Of course ...

Special bonus entry: The Blue Jays' bullpen. It was 7-0 after six innings. A Milton Bradley solo homer in the seventh made it a seemingly innocent 7-1 tally. Then the eighth inning happened. David Purcey allowed two singles and a walk. Octavio Dotel walked two -- both forcing runs home. Marc Rzepczynski came in and walked in another before allowing a single. All of a sudden, it was 7-6. Shawn Camp did get out of the inning, but lost it in the ninth -- eventually on a two-RBI knock by Luis Rodriguez. The simple math? After the eighth inning began, the Mariners scored seven runs before the Blue Jays could record a sixth out. Four pitchers failed to varying degrees.

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Posted on: April 7, 2011 10:15 am
Edited on: April 7, 2011 10:17 am
 

Pepper: Concussion concern

Yunel Escobar
By C. Trent Rosecrans

Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar may be the test case for Major League Baseball's new concussion guidelines after leaving Wednesday night's game against the A's following a collision with Oakland third baseman Adam LaRoche.

Escobar stayed in the game after he ran into LaRoche's knee on a head-first slide into third following a fifth-inning triple. After fielding his position in the sixth, Escobar was taken out of the game because of dizziness. He was taken to a hospital for testing and stayed overnight.

Escobar convinced manager John Farrell to keep him in the game after the incident and even wanted to stay after his half-inning in the field. Still, he was at shortstop jumping up and down and shaking his head.

Farrell said the team was waiting to see how he reacted and didn't like what they saw. Diagnosing a concussion is difficult, especially when an athlete is conditioned to play through pain, so managers need to be more proactive when a head injury occurs. Farrell acted and luckily it wasn't too late.

It won't be a surprise if Escobar is the first player to wind up on the seven-day DL for concussions. MLB has stepped up to the plate in giving teams ways to properly treat concussions, now it's time for the teams to follow through and use them. [Globe and Mail]

IS TODAY THE DAY? -- Can the Red Sox actually win a game? CBSSports.com senior writer Danny Knobler joins Lauren Shehadi to discuss it.

FIRST PITCH WORTH SEEING -- The White Sox's home opener today and throwing out the first pitch will be Minnie Minoso. Minoso is anywhere from 85-91 and one of the great ambassadors of baseball. We used Baseball-Reference.com's player oracle linking franchise legends to current players and I swear a good third of them that I did included Minoso, who played his first big-league game in 1949 and his last in 1980 (although, he did manage just five games after 1964, appearing in three games in 1976 and two in 1980 in a  publicity stunt). [Chicago Tribune]

LA RUSSA UPSET -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has found an easy scapegoat for his team's 2-4 start, the media. You'll never lose in a public opinion poll when you place yourself against the fourth estate. Baseball's king of deflection is at it early this season. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

GOOD SOLDIER -- Mariners second baseman Jack Wilson said he was in agreement with manager Eric Wedge's decision to pull him after two errors on Wednesday. The question is, with his contract up at the end of the season, could Wilson be traded away before the season ends to a team that needs a shortstop (St. Louis, Milwaukee, Houston?), especially with Dustin Ackley waiting to take over at second base. [Seattle Times]

BOO AWAY -- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel understands why fans booed Cole Hamels on Tuesday -- it is Philly after all. [Philly.com]

CAREER NUMBERS -- Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman have been in the National League Central long enough to have played nearly a season's worth of games against each team. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold breaks down Pujols' and Berkman's 'seasons' against NL Central opponents. The conclusion? Those two are pretty good -- and the Reds don't want to see either. Pujols' best numbers -- .372/.456/.695 with 45 HR and 134 RBI in 157 games -- are against the Pirates, and the Reds are in second place (159 games, 43 HR, 133 RBI, .356/.440/.656). Berkman's best are against the Reds, hitting 49 HR, 137 RBI and .318/.438/.678 in 152 games against Cincinnati.

SMALL BALL -- For just the second time in the nine-year history of Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, there were two straight games without a homer on Tuesday and Wednesday. The only other time that happened was Aug. 6-7, 2005 against the Marlins. That hasn't hurt the Reds, who scored 20 runs in those two games. The Reds have scored 43 runs through the first five games, the second-best mark in their history. In 1976, Cincinnati had 44 runs through five games. That team, of course, repeated as World Series champions. The team is also 5-0 for the fifth time in history -- twice winning the World Series after such a start (1919, 1990).

JUDGE ME NOT BY MY SIZE -- The Royals' Tim Collins and the Braves' Craig Kimbrel are proving you don't need to be tall to throw hard. [MLB.com]

RATINGS UP -- The Nationals' TV ratings for their opening series against the Braves were up nearly 100 percent. [D.C. Sports Bog]

CABRERA HITS 250 -- Miguel Cabrera hit his 250th career home run on Wednesday and Tiger manager Jim Leyland said he was sure his slugger would have "250 more." It seems likely if Cabrera stays on the field. [MLive.com]

SIPP STEPS UP -- Tony Sipp has emerged as the Indians' setup man. [Akron Beacon Journal]

OPENING DAY -- Today's opening day for the minor leagues. The game to watch is in Rome, Ga., where Bryce Harper will make his professional debut for the Class A Hagerstown Suns. [Rome News-Tribune]

HALL OF FAME PIG -- Ryne Sandberg, the new manager of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs is comfortable in his new job with the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate. [Allentown Morning-Call]

RALLY CAP -- The Altoona Curve is the first professional team to feature a reversible cap with a design in the lining to make a rally cap. The inside features a lining depicting the team's "rally mascot" Al Tuna. It's a pair of googly eyes, representing the head of the fish mascot. [MiLB.com]

MAKE IT A DOUBLE -- The Red Sox are getting closer to being able to selling mixed drinks at Fenway Park after reaching an agreement with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and other interest groups. This comes just in time, as the Red Sox are winless. [Boston Globe]

TEIXEIRA LAUNCHES DREAM TEAM -- Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira donated $1 million to the Harlem RBI program. [MLB..com]

SHEPARD DIES -- Larry Shepard, the former Pirates manager and pitching coach for the Big Red Machine, died on Tuesday. He was 92. Shepard managed the Pirates in 1968 and 1969 and was the Reds' pitching coach from 1970-78. He also served as the pitching coach for the Phillies and Giants. [Associated Press]

RETURN TO MONTREAL -- The Blue Jays are considering playing exhibition games in Montreal and other Canadian cities. [MLB.com]

A REAL CLASSIC -- "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" will be preserved at the Library of Congress along with 24 other recordings chosen for their cultural significance. [Associated Press]

10 YEARS OF PNC -- One of the best ballparks in Major League Baseball turns 10 this year, as the Pirates start their home opener on a roll, winner of their first two series. Even 10 years old, the $270 million stadium is still one of the best in baseball, even if its tenants haven't been. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]

MLB.COM Q&A -- The boss over at MLB.com talks about technology and baseball [All Things Digital]

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb  on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

 

Posted on: April 4, 2011 3:37 pm
 

Defense costing teams early

Aubrey Huff

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Sunday afternoon the sight of Aubrey Huff diving in right field was a joking matter. The night before he made a diving catch and then before batting practice his teammates put a faux-chalk outline of his dive in the Dodger Stadium grass.

A couple of hours later, it wasn't so funny.

In the first inning on Sunday, Huff dove on a Jamey Carroll liner which ended up a triple and helped the Dodgers score three in the inning. In the seventh inning, Huff also lost a ball over his head by Marcus Thames, good for another triple and driving in the go-ahead run.

One scout told CBSSports.com senior writer Danny Knobler that the Giants defense is "going to be an issue."

The Giants made their decision leaving camp that their defense would be secondary to scoring runs, as the team kept rookie first baseman Brandon Belt on the roster -- and it's not Belt that's the problem, he's a good defender. It's that in order to keep Huff and Belt in the lineup, Huff went to right field. And as right fielder's go, he's showing he's a first baseman.

I don't actually fault Huff, he's going out there and giving it his best and doing what the team asks him to do -- ultimately, it's just a flawed strategy putting Huff in the outfield. When Cody Ross is ready to come off the disabled list -- which is still at least two weeks away -- the Giants will be better at that spot, but they'll also have a decision between Belt and Huff -- or benching Pat Burrell and keeping Huff in the outfield. That said, the Giants will still have Miguel Tejada at shortstop.

But it's not just the Giants that are struggling defensively.

RangersThe Giants' World Series opponents last fall started off their season with a fielding error on the first batter of the season when Julio Borbon ran into Nelson Cruz.

The Cardinals seemed to be one team unconcerned about defense this offseason and could be concerned as the season goes along. The team added 35-year-old Lance Berkman, who hadn't played in the outfield since since 2007, to play every day in right field and got rid of one of baseball's best defensive shortstops, Brendan Ryan, and replaced him with an average second baseman in Ryan Theriot.

Theriot is the only National League player with two errors through Sunday's game, while in the American League one notoriously bad fielder (Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion) and one remarkably good fielder (Oakland's Daric Barton) have three errors each. 

There have been 68 errors this season through 46 games (following Sunday's games). That's only one more error than there was through 46 games last season (and 15 more than there was through 46 games in 2009).

That said, we all know errors aren't the best way to measure defense, there are plenty of examples of bad defense that didn't include an error in the boxscore.

On Sunday, the Cubs' defense let down closer Carlos Marmol. With one out and runners at second and third, Pedro Alvarez hit a dribbler to shortstop Starlin Castro who unloaded a bad throw to first, allowing two runs to score and the Pirates to get the win.

Milwaukee's Casey McGehee has had two costly decisions in the team's sweep at the hands of the Reds. In the ninth inning of Thursday's opener, McGehee failed to tag Brandon Phillips going to third, setting up the Reds' walk-off victory. On Sunday, McGehee went home and failed to get an out on a Drew Stubbs chopper, which led to a game-turned three-run homer by Phillips in the fourth. And that's two entire instances of the Brewers' bad defense without mentioning Yuniesky Betancourt, who the team had to take to get Zack Greinke, but didn't have to make their everyday shortstop. According to John Dewan's +/- system, no defensive player in baseball has cost their team more runs over the last three seasons than Betancourt's -66.

David Pinto over at Baseball Musings noted BABIP (batting average on balls in play) over the first weekend was .300, while it was .291 last season. That stat tells you a ball in the field was more likely to be fielded a year ago than it was this weekend.

Now, we're just 47 games into the 2011 season, so it's way too early to make any real conclusions about errors and defense as a whole, but it is something to watch. 

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: March 29, 2011 9:05 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 12:28 pm
 

Who will play their final game in 2011?

Chipper Jones

By C. Trent Rosecrans

As we look forward to the 2011 season, we look at some of the players that might be entering their final season in big-league baseball. Few of these players are likely thinking about retirement now -- and some may not be thinking about calling it a career when the season ends.

Players can choose retirement and others will find retirement chooses them. Here's a look at some of the bigger names that could be entering their final season.

Carlos Beltran
Age: 34 on April 24
2010 stats: .255/.341/.427, 7 HR, 27 RBI, 3 SB
2011 role: Since playing 161 games in 2008, Beltran played 145 combined the last two seasons. 
Contract status: Final year of a seven-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Low. Beltran still wants to play and still thinks he can. He's the type who will play until he's physically unable to continue. That's probably not as far away as he thinks, and he may not get to make his own decision to retire. Injuries have slowed him the last couple of years and it's tough to see him returning to his former heights. 

Lance BerkmanLance Berkman
Age: 35
2010 stats: .248/.368/.413, 14 HR, 58 RBI
2011 role: Not only will Berkman be a regular, but he's going to be the Cardinals' regular right fielder. He hasn't played a full season in the outfield since 2004. He played 49 games in the outfield in 2005, 44 in '06 and 31 in '07, but none in the past three seasons. He was limited to 17 games this spring and hit .189/.204/.264 with one homer.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Iffy. He's one of those guys who will get another chance no matter how 2011 goes, but would his pride keep him from being just another guy or could he welcome a reduced role somewhere?

Mark Buehrle
Age: 32
2010 stats: 13-13, 4.28 ERA, 99 K, 210 1/3 IP
2011 role: For the ninth consecutive year, Buehrle will start for the White Sox on opening day. He's expected to anchor the rotation and help lead Chicago into the playoffs.
Contract status: Final year of a four-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: 50/50. Buehrle seems to have plenty left in the tank, but has talked openly -- and often -- about retiring after this season. He's also mentioned wanting to be closer to home and may compromise by signing with the Cardinals.

Johnny Damon
Age: 37
2010 stats: .271/.355/.401, 8 HR, 51 RBI, 11 SB
2011 role: He'll be the team's everyday left fielder, replacing Carl Crawford. That'll be a definite step down offensively and defensively, but he could  still help the Rays score some runs.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Low. Damon has 2,571 hits and would likely need two more years past this season to get to 3,000. The desire is there, but will anyone take him? His chances hinge on how he performs this season.

Vladimir Guerrero
Age: 36
2010 stats: .300/.345/.496, 29 HR, 115 RBI
2011 role: Guerrero will be the Orioles' everyday designated hitter.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Low. Guerrero certainly looked old and his bat looked slow last fall, but he was a big reason the Rangers were in the playoffs. His spring numbers have done nothing to dismiss the notion that he can still compete. He hit .365/.358/.635 with five homers for his new team. Guerrero was the one aging designated hitter that received a contract close to his last one.  

Derrek Lee
Age: 35
2010 stats: .260/.347/.428, 19 HR, 80 RBI
2011 role: He's expected to be the Orioles' first baseman, but injury concerns may throw a wrench in those plans.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: 50/50. Lee didn't play in an exhibition game until March 19 because of his wrist. Then he fouled a ball off his foot in his first game back, which limited his play. He managed to get in just eight games this spring. If healthy, Lee can still play. But if he's not, he may just decide it's not worth it and return home to California to be with his family. 

Chipper Jones
Age: 39 on April 24
2010 stats: .265/.381/.426, 10 HR, 46 RBI
2011 role: Braves' everyday third baseman. He had a great spring, hitting .407/.453/.746 with four home runs in 20 games, a good sign for his comeback from knee surgery.
Contract status: Signed through the 2012 season, with a club option for 2013.
Probability he hangs 'em up: High. Jones talked about retiring last season, but came back when he couldn't finish under his own terms. 

Hideki MatsuiHideki Matsui
Age: 36
2010 stats: .274/.361/.459, 21 HR, 84 RBI
2011 role: A's everyday DH. The A's will be happy if Matsui can replicate his 2010 numbers with the Angels, but he's hitting in a worse park with fewer offensive weapons around him. Matsui had a rough spring -- .125/.246/.179 with one homer through Monday -- and if that continues through the season, it could by sayonara.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal. Probability he hangs 'em up: Good. Matsui's been playing professionally since 1993 when he debuted at age 19 with the Yomiuri Giants. Matsui is now limited to DH and the market wasn't too hot for him this offseason, so a down year could mean there may be nowhere to go but home.

Roy Oswalt
Age: 33
2010 stats: 13-13, 2.76 ERA, 193 K, 211 2/3 IP
2011 role: Oswalt will take the ball every fifth day in what could be the best rotation since the advent of the five-man rotation -- or at least since the Braves of the early-to-mid 90s. Oswalt seemed energized by his trade out of Houston to Philadelphia before last year's deadline, going 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA in the regular season with the Phillies. He also pitched well in two starts and a relief appearance in the NLDS against the Giants.
Contract status: Final year of a five-year deal, but the Phillies have a $16 million option with a $2 million buyout.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Low. Oswalt's talked about retirement, but he's still very much a good pitcher and seems to have several good years ahead of him and a lot of money to be made.

Manny Ramirez
Age: 39 on May 30
2010 stats: .298/.409/.460, 9 HR, 42 RBI
2011 role: Ramirez will be the team's everyday DH. Ramirez and Damon are being counted on to help make up for the loss of Crawford and Carlos Pena
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: 50/50. Ramirez seems like he'll keep taking his show on the road until nobody wants him anymore. The fact that he's getting just $2 million this season tells you he wasn't wanted by many. His act has worn thin, but if he bounces back and hits like he can, someone will want him.

Mariano Rivera
Age: 41
2010 stats: 3-3, 1.80 ERA, 33 saves
2011 role: Rivera is expected to still be the best reliever in baseball history.
Contract status: First year of a two-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Low. He's 41, and that seems old. But tell that to any of the batters who face him. If he had signed a one-year deal this offseason, I could see him retiring after this season, but the two-year deal makes sense for both him and the team. He's 41 saves shy of 600 and 43 from overtaking Trevor Hoffman as the all-time leader.

Jim ThomeJim Thome
Age: 40
2010 stats: .283/.412/.627, 25 HR, 59 RBI
2011 role: A platoon/reserve DH for the Twins with Jason Kubel. Thome had the same type of role at the beginning of 2010 and became more of a regular after Justin Morneau's concussion. Thome is still dangerous against right-handed pitchers, but struggles against lefties.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Good. By the end of the season, Thome will be 41 and will likely hit all the milestones -- he has 589 homers -- he can before the end of his career.

Chase Utley
Age: 32
2010 stats: .275/.387/.445, 16 HR, 65 RBI
2011 role: Ideally he'd be playing second base every day for the Phillies, but who knows when he'll be ready?
Contract status: Signed through 2013.
Probability he hangs 'em up: Low. But injuries haven't been kind to Utley. He doesn't want to retire anytime soon, but it may not end up being his decision.

Omar Vizquel
Age: 44 on April 24
2010 stats: .276/.341/.331, 2 HR, 30 RBI, 11 SB
2011 role: He will once again be a utility infielder for the White Sox. He received more playing time than expected last season due to others' injuries, playing in 108 games for Chicago.
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: High. Although, with another year he has an outside shot at 3,000 hits. He enters 2011 with 2,799 hits, but it has taken him three seasons to get his last 201 hits. It seems difficult to believe he could play until he's 46 and keep that level of production. However, if he did get to the magic 3,000, it would cement his Hall of Fame candidacy.

Tim WakefieldTim Wakefield
Age: 44
2010 stats: 4-10, 5.34 ERA, 84 K, 140 IP
2011 role: Long reliever/emergency starter. It's the same role Wakefield was asked to play last season when he bristled at being taken out of the rotation. A knuckleballer is a tough pitcher to manage out of the 'pen, there's too much uncertainty in the pitch to use him as a late-inning reliever, but he doesn't fit into the rotation anymore and the team can still use him.
Contract status: Final year of a two-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: High. Wakefield will be 45 at the end of the season and his role as a reliever isn't well-suited for the knuckleballer.

Kerry Wood
Age: 33
2010 stats: 3-4, 3.13 ERA, 8 saves
2011 role: Wood will be the main set-up man to closer Carlos Marmol. He thrived as a set-up man with the Yankees last season. 
Contract status: Signed a one-year deal.
Probability he hangs 'em up: 50/50. Wood still has plenty in the tank, especially if he doesn't have to be a closer anymore. He's seemed to embrace the elder statesman role with the Cubs and could still be an effective reliever for several years. He's considered retirement in the past and has already been told he has a job with the Cubs whenever he does hang them up.

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Posted on: March 29, 2011 9:05 pm
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Posted on: March 29, 2011 5:56 pm
Edited on: March 29, 2011 9:35 pm
 

Five teams to improve, five to decline in 2011

By Matt Snyder

Finally, spring training is concluding. Now we have a day or two before your favorite team begins play. In the meantime, I'm here to bring you the top five teams to decline and the top five to improve upon their 2010 performances. In return, you accuse me of bias and call me names. It's fun for everyone, really. One thing to keep in mind is that improving or declining by more than 10 games is pretty drastic. On some of these, I'm looking at something like a seven-game swing.

TOP FIVE TEAMS TO IMPROVE

1. Boston Red Sox. Well, let's see ... Last season Kevin Youkilis only played 102 games, Dustin Pedroia saw action in 75 and Jacoby Ellsbury just 18. Josh Beckett was either injured or ineffective all season. Meanwhile the Red Sox added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to a team that won 89 games, despite all those injury woes -- and some underachieving from people like John Lackey. Easiest call on the board here, and even Yankees fans would have to concede this team is loaded.

2. Oakland A's. The pitching staff is stellar, even including the bullpen. The starting rotation is already really good and only getting better. The A's won 81 with one of the worst offenses in baseball last season. A full season of Coco Crisp, Kurt Suzuki bouncing back and the additions of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham don't exactly sound like adding Gonzalez and Crawford, but small improvements will do wonders for the pitching staff. Slugger Chris Carter is waiting in the wings, too, and don't be surprised if Billy Beane adds a bat at the deadline.

3. Colorado Rockies. Troy Tulowitzki needs to stay healthy and Dexter Fowler needs to get closer to his ceiling. I'm going out on a limb that both happen, along with steps forward from Chris Iannetta and Ian Stewart. Watch Jhoulys Chacin's development in the starting rotation, too. He's got big potential.

4. Milwaukee Brewers. This is contingent upon the big names staying healthy and Zack Greinke getting healthy as soon as possible, because this team is paper-thin. But the top line is very impressive. Plus, the division is not very good at all. The Brewers are going to score runs, get good starting pitching (again, assuming the health thing) and have a good back-end of the bullpen. If they can overcome defense and depth deficiencies, they'll win the Central.

5. Florida Marlins. Call it a bit of a gut call, but I really like the Marlins. The rotation really has great potential with Javier Vazquez returning to a pitcher's park in the NL East (he's apparently too intimidated by being a Yankee) and Ricky Nolasco having the ability to be a true No. 2 if he can ever stay consistent. Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad have -- again, this word -- potential to be solid at the end, with stud Josh Johnson leading the five-some. I love the outfield potential of Logan Morrison, Chris Coghlan and Mike Stanton, so long as all three can stay healthy. Hanley Ramirez is primed to have a big season, too.

TOP FIVE TEAMS TO DECLINE

1. San Diego Padres. Removing Gonzalez from the middle of the batting order changes the complexion of everything. And Mat Latos is already hurt, which does nothing to alleviate the concern of the huge workload increase he's experienced over the past two seasons. Most of all, the Padres just seem outmanned by the Giants and Rockies. Winning close to 90 games seems outlandish. Of course, many people said that last year, too.

2. Houston Astros. They overachieved in a big way last season according to run differential (the 'Stros allowed 118 more runs than they scored) and aren't any better. Other than Hunter Pence, the position players are either getting old (Carlos Lee), still unproven (Brett Wallace) or just not that good (Jason Michaels, Bill Hall, Michael Bourn). I'm not a huge fan of the rotation, but it's going to have to carry the team. Good luck with that.

3. Tampa Bay Rays. This is difficult. It's hard to not love the Rays for being so good at sticking with the Yankees and Red Sox in the mighty AL East on that paltry payroll. The loss of Crawford hurts. Carlos Pena wasn't overly productive -- though he was much better than his batting average said -- last season, but his presence helps everyone else see better pitches. That goes away with Dan Johnson at first. The loss of Matt Garza isn't a big deal, so long as Jeremy Hellickson does his thing and James Shields returns to form. The bullpen is worse, though. Look, I'd pick the Rays to win the NL Central if they were in it, but the Yankees aren't any worse and the Red Sox are way better. The Orioles should be better as well. I think the Rays win in the ballpark of 86 games, but that's 10 worse than last year and good for third place.

4. Toronto Blue Jays. They're still building and are moving in the right direction, but winning 85 games again in that division is a very tall order. Any offensive bounce-back from the likes of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind is negated by Jose Bautista's return to this planet.

5. St. Louis Cardinals. If anyone can pull this off, it's Dave Duncan, but losing Adam Wainwright was a death blow. Chris Carpenter is old and injury-prone. Jaime Garcia is due a massive regression. Kyle Lohse was awful last year and Jake Westbrook doesn't have good stuff. Kyle McClellan could very well prove a solid No. 5 starter, but he hasn't exceeded 75 2/3 innings the past three seasons in the bullpen. Can he really double that and remain effective? The outfield defense won't do the staff any favors, either. The Pujols/Holliday/Rasmus combo -- and even Lance Berkman in a best-case scenario -- is very solid, but there's only going to be so much they can do on some nights. I feel like mid-to-high 70s in wins, but Duncan and Tony La Russa find ways to make people wrong often.

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