Posted on: September 22, 2011 11:36 pm

3 to Watch: The Yankees' chance edition

NEW YORK -- The Phillies haven't won since they clinched the National League East.

The Tigers have lost three of five since they clinched the American League Central.

And Thursday, the Yankees played a Triple-A lineup, committed four errors and lost 15-8 to the Rays, the day after clinching the AL East.

What happens next will be more interesting.

What happens next is Yankees-Red Sox, giving the Yankees a chance to push their biggest rivals a few steps further towards what would be an embarrassing collapse.

Could the Yankees possibly sleepwalk through three more days, at the risk of giving the Red Sox life?

Johnny Damon says no.

As the Rays designated hitter, Damon is an interested party. But as an ex-Red Sox and ex-Yankee, he understands the dynamics of the rivalry, too. And he fully believes that whether the Yankees say it publicly or not, they want the Red Sox out of the playoffs.

"Yeah, because it's definitely not a good story if the Red Sox beat them in the playoffs," Damon said. "If the Rays beat them, it may not be acceptable, but it's more palatable.

"And they've matched up well against us. We haven't really done anything to show them otherwise."

The Yankees have been in an unusual spot all week, in a sense having control over who wins the AL wild card and who doesn't. For three games against the Rays, they could pretend that they were solely focused on winning the division themselves.

Now that they're in, they'll claim that they're solely focused on setting themselves up for the playoffs. Yes, catcher Russell Martin said Thursday, "I hate the Red Sox," but everywhere else in the Yankee clubhouse they were insisting they don't care who else gets in.

We'll see.

We'll see what lineups manager Joe Girardi runs out there the next three days, and then for three games at Tampa Bay. We'll see what intensity the Yankees play with.

Girardi is absolutely right that his main objective should be to get his team ready. He's right not to start ace CC Sabathia, since Sabathia wouldn't line up well for Game 1 if he starts again during the regular season.

"Our responsibility is to our club," Girardi said Thursday. "That's the bottom line. I have to make sure our guys are healthy, rested and ready to go [for the first playoff game] next Friday."

Hard to blame him for that.

The Phillies did the same thing on the final weekend of last season against the Braves, who were still fighting for a wild-card spot. On the final day of the season, in a game the Braves had to win, Cole Hamels started but pitched just two innings.

The Phils will likely take the same approach next week in Atlanta. The Rangers may do the same in Anaheim, if they clinch the AL West before their series against the Angels begins Monday.

The difference for the Yankees is that each of their final six games could influence the wild-card race.

The difference is that the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, with a chance to help knock them out.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Braves, as colleague Scott Miller pointed out, have been collapsing almost as badly as the Red Sox have. They got a break Thursday, when the Cardinals collapsed in the ninth inning against the Mets, but they know that the Cards have a seeming schedule advantage with their final six games against the Cubs and Astros. The Braves will figure they need to win, beginning with Braves at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park. The Nats just swept the Phillies, and have won nine of their last 11. And this is a Strasburg game.

2. Yes, it's true, the Red Sox were worried enough about their pitching that they contacted the Mets at one point to try to make a late trade for Chris Capuano. It's true, after starting Jon Lester Friday, the Sox are stuck with no better choices than Tim Wakefield and John Lackey the rest of the weekend. Lackey has a 10.70 ERA in September. Wakefield is at 4.95, heading into a likely meeting with equally bad A.J. Burnett in Red Sox at Yankees, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Yankee Stadium.

3. There are other games that matter more, with the Angels at home against the A's, the Cardinals at home against the Cubs, the Rangers trying to clinch at home against the Mariners and the Diamondbacks trying to clinch at home against the Giants. But Justin Verlander is going for his 25th win, so 3 to Watch has no choice but to close with Orioles at Tigers, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at Comerica Park. No pitcher has won 25 since Bob Welch won 27 for the 1990 A's, and Welch was the first since Steve Stone won 25 for the 1980 Orioles. The last Tiger to win 25: Denny McLain, when he won 31 in 1968. Verlander, who at this point has to be the American League MVP, is 20-2 with a 1.75 ERA over his last 22 starts, holding opponents to a .188 batting average and a .529 OPS. The last guy with an OPS that low and enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title was Alfredo Griffin, in 1990.

Posted on: September 4, 2011 9:42 pm

3 to Watch: The return of Strasburg edition

Stephen Strasburg returns to the major leagues Tuesday night, and as interesting as it will be to see how he pitches, it'll be even more interesting to see if the buzz is back.

Can he make us care, the way he did last year? Can he make us ask every day, "Is Strasburg pitching tonight?"

It's different, I know. He's been out for a year after Tommy John surgery. It's September, not June. He's only going to make four starts at a time when we're more focused on pennant races (if there are any) or football. He's going to be on a pitch limit even stricter than the one the Nationals held him to last year (and will be limited to four innings and 60 pitches in his debut, according to the Washington Post).

"I'm not going to win a Cy Young in four starts," Strasburg told reporters, according to MLB.com.

He didn't win a Cy Young last year. He was 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts, before hurting his elbow in August.

But we were fascinated by him, more than we've been fascinated by any player coming through the minor leagues. We couldn't wait for him to get to the majors, and when he got there, we couldn't wait for his every start.

His debut, with 14 strikeouts in seven innings, was one of the biggest events of the entire season.

It won't be like that Tuesday. It can't be like that Tuesday.

According to the Nationals, there are still tickets available, although they say it should be a bigger crowd than they'd normally have for a September Tuesday against the Dodgers.

There is some anticipation. Strasburg's rehabilitation starts in the minor leagues made national news, and in those six starts he struck out 29 while walking just four.

In his last start, according to the Washington Times, Strasburg topped out at 99 mph on the radar gun.

He threw 99 last June, on his 94th and final pitch of a magical night.

I'm not saying that Tuesday will be as magical, or that it even could be. But I'll be back in Washington to see it, and more than that to feel it.

Will the buzz be back?

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Strasburg underwent surgery on Sept. 3, 2010. He returns to the big leagues on Sept. 6, 2011, in Dodgers at Nationals, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park. That's a fairly normal progression; Strasburg's teammate Jordan Zimmermann returned one year and seven days after he had Tommy John surgery. Zimmermann returned on the same day that Bryce Harper had his introductory press conference and Strasburg underwent an arthogram that showed he would need Tommy John surgery, too.

2. On Aug. 15, the Rangers had a four-game lead in the American League West, and that night they began a 23-game stretch in which they played every game against a team that (as of Sunday morning) had a record of .500 or better. The Rangers ended the weekend with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Angels, and they'll end that tough stretch with Rangers at Rays, Thursday afternoon (1:10 ET) at Tropicana Field. After that game, the Rangers will have 18 games left on their schedule, and only six of those 18 (three at home against the Indians, three in Anaheim against the Angels) will be against teams with winning records. So if the Angels want to catch up, this week (when they play three home games against the Mariners) could be crucial. It's an interesting pitching matchup for the Rangers Wednesday, with Derek Holland (seven shutout innings last Friday against the Red Sox) facing David Price (who threw eight shutout innings the last time he faced the Red Sox).

3. Last year, both the Phillies and the Braves made the playoffs, but when the teams met in two September series, it was obvious that the Braves were no match. They meet again this week, in a series that ends with Braves at Phillies, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Once again, the Phillies have basically wrapped up the division title (which will be their fifth straight), and this time the Braves are far ahead in the wild-card race. This time, at least going in, the Braves seem a more competitive match for the Phils. But with Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens both battling injuries, the Braves might need to rely more than they'd like on rookie Brandon Beachy, who starts Wednesday against Roy Oswalt (who the Phillies will be watching carefully).

Posted on: August 24, 2011 11:37 am
Edited on: August 24, 2011 12:03 pm

So maybe it really isn't about the money

Players always go for the most money.

Except when they don't.

Except when Cliff Lee says, "At some point, enough is enough." Except when Jered Weaver says, "Could have got more. Whatever. Who cares?"

Except when Zack Greinke says, sorry Nationals, it's not your money, it's your team. Except when Roy Halladay says, "This is where we wanted to be."

There's a trend developing here, and it might be bad news for the Yankees.

The old rule of thumb was that free agents -- or even free-agents-to-be -- always signed for the biggest contract. And the Yankees always knew they could offer that biggest contract, if they wanted to.

But what if that's not true anymore?

What if the best players decide that once the money gets big enough -- $17 million a year, or $20 million a year, or $24 million a year -- an extra $1 million or $2 million or $30 million isn't going to buy happiness?

What happens is that Halladay gets himself traded to the one team he wanted to play for. What happens is that Greinke turns down a non-contending Nationals team (that offered him a big-money extension) so he can go to a contender in Milwaukee (under his current contract). What happens is that Lee turns down more guaranteed money, because he wants to be back in Philladelphia.

And what happens is that Weaver, as colleague Scott Miller details, bucks the Scott Boras trend. Instead of waiting for free agency (after 2012) and even bigger bucks, he tells Boras that "money really wasn't an option for me" and re-signs with the Angels.

Actually, two trends are at work here. With more money available throughout the game, more and more young aces -- Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and now Weaver -- never get to free agency. Hernandez and Verlander both would have been free agents this winter, if they hadn't signed extensions.

Imagine that bidding frenzy.

Or maybe not. Maybe, even if they had gone to the market, both would have signed for less than the last available dollar. Maybe both would have turned down the Yankees.

We always snickered when free agents said, "It's not about the money," before or after taking the biggest deal they could find.

But maybe there's a point where it really isn't "all about the money." And maybe now, we're reaching that point.

Posted on: August 2, 2011 7:10 pm

Marlins build a ballpark, and maybe a team

NEW YORK -- The Marlins announced Tuesday that they'll open their new ballpark with two exhibition games against the Yankees.

Two days earlier, they announced that they'll open the new ballpark with the same core of players they have now.

That's not exactly true, but it sure did feel significant that the Marlins let this non-waiver trade deadline pass without sending anyone away. The Marlins haven't usually been active sellers in July, but somehow it felt more significant that they didn't sell anyone off this July 31.

It didn’t go unnoticed in the clubhouse, either.

"Next year, going to the new stadium, we're going to need those pieces," Wes Helms said.

That squares with what the Marlins told teams that inquired about Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Leo Nunez and other Marlins. The Marlins may not have much chance at catching the Braves in the NL wild-card race (although they say they're not giving up on that yet), but they believe that a strong finish this year can be an important step towards what they hope to do in the new park next year.

"They know they want a winner going into the new stadium," Helms said.

It was a strange trade deadline in the NL East. The two teams that have pulled away at the top did exactly what you'd expect -- both the Phillies and Braves improved by adding Astros outfielders -- but the three teams at the bottom resisted all-out sales.

The Mets traded only the two players they absolutely had to move, outfielder Carlos Beltran and closer Francisco Rodriguez. The Nationals eventually dealt starter Jason Marquis, but only after trading for a bench player (Jonny Gomes) and trying like heck to trade for a center fielder.

And the Marlins held onto what they have, happy that after falling 11 games under .500 in late June, they played well enough in July that they began play Tuesday just one game below break-even for the season.

"I've always preached to them that once we get to .500, we'll take off," manager Jack McKeon said. "I gave that same speech in '03."

The difference was by the first days of August 2003, the Marlins were already 10 games over .500, and just two games behind in the wild-card race. As of Tuesday, the Marlins were 8 1/2 games behind the wild-card leading Braves (and a game behind the third-place Mets).

At this point, it really seems to be about finishing strong and building momentum towards the new stadium.

"It was important to win games and continue to improve and have continuity," general manager Larry Beinfest told reporters after the July 31 deadline passed. "And we felt pretty good about keeping this team together at this point and having a good, productive two months as we head into the new ballpark."

Beinfest and McKeon said the Marlins would have added rather than subtracted had they made a move at the deadline.

"I mean, we're trying to build," McKeon said. "We're not trying to trade our good pieces off."

They're building a ballpark. They believe they're building a winning team.

They're trying to sell tickets. They didn't sell their players.

It's all related.
Posted on: July 26, 2011 2:26 pm
Edited on: July 26, 2011 2:30 pm

Rasmus could interest Nats, Giants

It's still not clear whether the Cardinals will trade Colby Rasmus. But there's no doubt that the Cardinals are very willing to talk about Colby Rasmus.

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday, Rasmus has drawn interest from the White Sox. According to sources, they're not alone.

The Giants and Nationals are both watching Rasmus during this week's series against the Astros, and the Cards made sure to put Rasmus in the lineup Monday night (he even had a good game).

For the Giants, Rasmus appears to be strictly a backup plan. Carlos Beltran remains the Giants' top target.

The Nationals could be a more interesting team to watch, because they have long been searching for a center fielder and Rasmus fits the prototype favored by Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. Also, the Nats have pitching that they could trade (starters Jason Marquis and John Lannan have been mentioned by other teams as being available, as well as reliever Tyler Clippard).

For the Cardinals to trade Rasmus, they would likely need to get immediate pitching help in return. The bullpen continues to be a problem (the Cards have 19 blown saves, tied for second in the majors). Either a starter or a reliever (or relievers) could help, because the Cards could move Kyle McClellan from the rotation to the bullpen.

Rasmus has talent, but he hasn't exactly fit in with manager Tony La Russa. Scouts watching the Cardinals last weekend took notice when La Russa allowed reliever Jason Motte to bat in a situation where he could have used Rasmus as a pinch hitter, then put Rasmus in the game as strictly a defensive replacement.
Posted on: June 26, 2011 6:30 pm

3 to Watch: The (maybe it's a) WS preview edition

This isn't a prediction. This is just a statement of fact.

The Phillies are the most impressive team in the National League. The Red Sox are the most impressive team in the American League.

And when they meet for three games this week in Philadelphia, some people are going to see it as a World Series preview.

Not a prediction. Just a statement of fact.

And yes, I've looked at the standings. I know that the Red Sox are half a game behind the Yankees in the AL East. I'm not saying that the Red Sox are guaranteed anything at this point, or even, for that matter, that the Phillies are guaranteed anything.

But from the time that the Red Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford, and from the time the Phillies signed Cliff Lee, there's been a sense that one team was the best in the American League, and that the other was the best in the National League.

Seven months later, there's still that sense.

Seven months later, it feels like it's worth noting that only five times in the first 14 years of interleague play, two teams that met in the regular season went on to meet in the World Series (and that four of those five times, the team that won the regular-season series ended up losing the World Series).

Just remember, that's not a prediction.

It's just a statement of fact.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Angels announced that they're going to bring the Nationals presidents race to Anaheim this week. The Nationals announced that they're going to bring Davey Johnson, who last managed in the big leagues when Bill Clinton was president. It figures to be quite a week, beginning with Nationals at Angels, Monday night (10:05 ET) at Angel Stadium.

2. After watching Justin Verlander pitch in person on Saturday night, I'm more convinced than ever that Verlander is the best pitcher in the majors. But if my mind is going to be changed, perhaps it happens in Red Sox at Phillies, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Josh Beckett, who starts for Boston, leads the majors with a 1.86 ERA. Cliff Lee, who starts for Philadelphia, has thrown two straight shutouts and has allowed just one run in the last 33 innings.

3. The Yankees have invited Dick Groch, the scout who signed Derek Jeter, to come to town to see Jeter get his 3,000th hit. Groch now works for the Brewers, so it sure would have been nice if Jeter had a chance to get it when Milwaukee comes to town this week. He's eligible to come off the disabled list for Brewers at Yankees, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium, but it's basically a given now that he won't be ready that soon. Jeter told the Associated Press on Sunday in Tampa that he won't even begin a running program until Monday or Tuesday. Wednesday's game should be interesting, anyway, as Brewers starter Shaun Marcum tries to prove his hip injury really is nothing serious. Marcum has pitched just four innings in his last two starts, but the Brewers insist it was just predetermined caution when they removed him after three innings the last time.

Posted on: June 25, 2011 9:12 pm
Edited on: June 25, 2011 9:24 pm

For managers, it's still an old man's game

With Davey Johnson taking over the Nationals on Monday, baseball will have as many managers over 60 as under 50.

Yes, despite the retirement last year of Bobby Cox (who is 70), Joe Torre (also 70) and Lou Piniella (67), managing is still an old man's game.

"I think Jack McKeon said it pretty good," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Why penalize experience?"

McKeon just returned to manage the Marlins, on an interim basis, at age 80. Johnson, back in a major-league dugout for the first time since 2000, is 68.

The 66-year-old Leyland, who began the season as baseball's third-oldest manager behind Charlie Manuel (67) and Tony La Russa (66), is now just the fifth-oldest.

Dusty Baker of the Reds (62) and Terry Collins of the Mets (62) make it seven managers who have passed 60.

There are also seven who have yet to turn 50, with Cleveland's Manny Acta the youngest, at 42.

Posted on: June 25, 2011 12:03 pm
Edited on: June 25, 2011 8:42 pm

Johnson will take over Nats Monday

Davey Johnson will be the next manager of the Nationals.

Johnson will take over the team for Monday night's game against the Angels in Anaheim, general manager Mike Rizzo confirmed to reporters Saturday. Sources have indicated that the Nationals intend to give Johnson a contract through 2013, but so far Rizzo has said only that Johnson will manage the team for the rest of this season.

Rizzo had told reporters Friday in Chicago that Johnson was interested in the job.

"He would enjoy this challenge," Rizzo said, according to the Washington Post.

The 68-year-old Johnson hasn't managed in the major leagues since he was fired by the Dodgers after the 2000 season, but he has remained active in the game. Johnson managed Team USA in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, and he has worked in the Nationals front office for the last two years.

At 68, Johnson would be the second oldest manager in the game, behind only Jack McKeon, who took over the Marlins on an interim basis last week. Johnson managed in the major leagues for 14 years, winning the World Series with the 1986 Mets. He has an overall winning percentage of .564, with five division titles. The only active manager with a better career winning percentage is Joe Girardi, at .566.

The Nationals job came open with Jim Riggleman's shock resignation on Thursday. John McLaren, who was Riggleman's bench coach, has been running the team this weekend in Chicago. Rizzo announced that McLaren will not continue as bench coach under Johnson, but will remain in the organization in another capacity.

Category: MLB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com