Tag:Joe Mauer
Posted on: June 13, 2011 12:41 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 8:10 pm

Holliday ranks top in big week for returns

Sunday night, after the Giants activated Pablo Sandoval from the disabled list, I asked on Twitter which of the five big-name players coming off the DL this week would have the biggest impact on the pennant race.

One problem: I missed two of them.

There aren't five big-name players that could come off the DL this week. There are seven.

Seven players who have combined for 17 All-Star appearances, six batting titles, one MVP and two runners-up, four Gold Gloves and 15 Silver Sluggers.

And I didn't even include Jason Heyward, who began a rehabilitation assignment with the Braves' Triple-A Gwinnett team, and could be activated as soon as Wednesday.

Anyway, I'll ask the question again: Which one will have the biggest impact on the pennant race?

And I'll try to answer it:

1. Matt Holliday, Cardinals, left quadriceps, last played May 31, could return Thursday. When Holliday missed seven early-season games with appendicitis, the Cardinals scored just 18 runs and went 2-5. He's missed the last 11 games, and they've scored 49 runs and gone 5-6. They're a first-place team that scores plenty of runs when he plays, a sub-.500 team that struggles to score when he doesn't. Fortunately for the Cardinals, it looks reasonably certain that this Holliday absence won't last much longer.

2. Travis Hafner, Indians, right oblique, last played May 17, could return late this week. Even with Hafner, the Indians may not be good enough to hold on in the American League Central race. But it's clear that without him, they've got no chance. The numbers are skewed a little by the strong pitching Cleveland has faced since Hafner went out, but it's still stunning to see that they were shut out just once with him in the lineup -- and six times in the 24 games he has missed. The Indians were hitting .271 as a team when Hafner got hurt. They've hit .224 as a team (with a .289 on-base percentage and a .346 slugging percentage) without him. The Indians will go as far as their talented young hitters can take them, but those young hitters are hurting without Hafner's presence in the lineup. Hafner is due to begin a rehabilitation assignment Tuesday at Double-A Akron. The Indians have told him they'd like him to stay there three or four days.

3. Joe Mauer, Twins, bilateral leg weakness, last played April 12, could return Thursday. If the Twins weren't already nine games out, Mauer would top this list. If they were still 20 games under .500, as they were a couple weeks back, he'd be farther down the list. The Twins aren't nearly the same team without Mauer, but his impact on the pennant race is limited by how bad they've been without him -- and by the continuing uncertainty about how effective he'll be when he returns.

4. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins, back inflammation, last played May 29, expected to return Tuesday. The Marlins, finishing up a brutal offensive homestand that cost hitting coach John Mallee his job, obviously need a boost. Ramirez, a one-time National League batting champ, could obviously provide it. But will he? Ramirez hit just .210 in 48 games before going on the DL. Even with that, the Marlins were just two games behind the Phillies when Ramirez last played. They're seven games out now, and he'll be back for the start of a four-game series in Philadelphia.
5. Magglio Ordonez, Tigers, right ankle weakness, last played May 10, returning Monday night. If he hits .172, as he did before the Tigers put him on the DL, he's the least important guy on this list. If he's a .300 hitter, as he has been for most of his career (including last year), he's as important as anyone, and might be enough to make the Tigers clear favorites in the AL Central.

6. Pablo Sandoval, Giants, fractured hamate bone, last played April 29, will return Tuesday. The way the Giants struggle to score runs, some will make the case that the Panda is as important as anyone. I dropped him down only because the Giants went 25-16 in his absence. Yes, Buster Posey is out of the lineup now, but the Giants are above .500 since he's been out, too.

7. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals, abdominal surgery, last played April 9, expected to return Tuesday. The Nationals without Zimmerman might be the worst offensive team in the game. The Nationals with Zimmerman could hope to escape last place by passing the Mets. It's hard to say Zimmerman will impact the pennant race, except by making the Nationals a significantly tougher opponent.

Posted on: June 12, 2011 7:33 pm
Edited on: June 12, 2011 7:34 pm

3 to Watch: The Central showdown(s) edition

When the Indians stumbled, they let other teams back into the American League Central race.

But how many teams?

The Tigers have spent the last two days in a virtual tie with the Indians, so obviously they're in it.

The White Sox have the best record in the division over the last 37 days (22-13), and they're now just 3 1/2 games out of first place. So no matter what anyone said last month, they're obviously in it, too.

But what about the Twins? They're still nine games out, which only looks good because 11 days ago they were 16 1/2 games out. They're still 13 games under .500, which only looks good because 11 days ago they were 20 games under.

The players  who are out of the Twins lineup still look better than the players who are in the lineup, but that changes when Joe Mauer comes back (maybe as soon as Thursday). Justin Morneau, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, Denard Span and Tsuyoshi Nishioka are all on the way back, too.

I never thought the White Sox were out of it, even when they were 10 games out in early May. I did think the Twins were out of it . . . but now I'm starting to wonder.

I thought the big series this week would be Indians at Tigers, but now I'm starting to think White Sox at Twins could end up mattering just as much.

Either way, this should be a fascinating week in the Central.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. If there's one thing that separates the Tigers from the other contenders, it's that no one else in the Central has an ace as dependable as Justin Verlander. Verlander has been at least a 17-game winner in four of his first five big-league seasons, and he's headed there again. The Tigers have won six of his last seven starts, beginning with his May 7 no-hitter and heading into his start in Indians at Tigers, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at Comerica Park. Verlander is 5-0 with a 2.14 ERA in that span. Compare that with Justin Masterson, Cleveland's Tuesday starter, who hasn't won since April (despite a 3.79 ERA in his last eight starts).

2. The Yankees spent the first part of the weekend talking about who would fill in for Joba Chamberlain in the seventh inning. They spent the last part of the weekend talking about who would fill in for Bartolo Colon in the rotation. Chamberlain (Tommy John surgery) will be out longer than Colon (left hamstring strain), but finding someone who can do what Colon has done figures to be tougher than finding someone who can do what Chamberlain has done. The Yankees have yet to name a starter for Rangers at Yankees, Thursday afternoon (1:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium, which is the next time Colon's spot in the rotation comes up. It's also the day Chamberlain has his surgery, and the day C.J. Wilson faces the Yankees for the first time since he lost Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Oh, and it's Derek Jeter's last chance to get his 3,000th hit at home, barring a long slump on the upcoming trip to play the Cubs and Reds. For what it's worth, Jeter is 5-for-14 (.357) against Wilson in the regular season, but went 1-for-7 against him in last year's ALCS.

3. Without Mauer, Twins catchers have had the worst OPS in baseball (.495, with an incredible .184 batting average). Without Mauer, the middle of the order has been a big problem for the Twins, along with the middle of the infield and the middle of the bullpen. No matter how well the Twins have played recently -- three wins in four games over the weekend against the Rangers, nine wins in their last 11 games overall -- there's no chance the Twins get back in the AL Central race without Mauer, who may be back for White Sox at Twins, Thursday afternoon (1:10 ET) at Target Field.

Posted on: June 5, 2011 4:38 pm
Edited on: June 5, 2011 5:04 pm

3 to Watch: The draft edition

There's no doubting how important the baseball draft is.

The Giants don't win the World Series if they don't pick Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey in three straight first rounds from 2006-08. The Phillies don't become a powerhouse without taking Pat Burrell, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels in the first round between 1992-2002. The Rays are still losers if not for first-rounders like Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and David Price (and Delmon Young, who brought them Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett).

And the Rangers don't get to the World Series last year if they don't use a 2008 first-round pick on Justin Smoak, who they could turn into Cliff Lee.

Three of the last four American League Most Valuable Players were taken first overall (Alex Rodriguez, Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton).

The draft is crucial, and for all the talk of how the late rounds matter (yes, Albert Pujols was a 13th-rounder), the fact is that most American-born All-Stars (foreign players aren't draft-eligible) come from the very early picks.

So should you study up for Monday's 2011 version of the draft? Should you make plans to watch the first round on the MLB Network?

No, not unless you're close friends with someone who might get picked.

The truth is that unlike the NBA and NFL drafts, the baseball draft is much more interesting in retrospect than it is the day it happens.

It's great to look back and see how previous drafts went, once we know which picks were great and which were flops. Go ahead and check out C. Trent Rosecrans' rundown of each team's best first-round pick from the last decade, and Matt Snyder's rundown of the worst.

You know the names -- the good ones, anyway.

As for this year's draft, feel free to watch something else on Monday -- maybe Zack Greinke against the Marlins, maybe Matt Kemp vs. Cliff Lee.

But because the draft is important, we'll also give you this draft version of 3 to Watch, as in three things to know, whether you watch or not:

1. Some years, having the top pick is great. It was great the last two years for the Nationals, when Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were available. It was great the only two times the Mariners had it, because Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez were available. But most drafts have no Strasburg and no A-Rod. And many drafts are like this one, with plenty of debate over the best available player. The Pirates pick first, and there have been conflicting reports on who they'll take. The local paper suggested it would be UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole, while highly-respected draft-watcher Jim Callis of Baseball America said University of Virginia right-hander Danny Hultzen. It seems almost certain to be one of the two, even though some scouts think Oklahoma high school pitcher Dylan Bundy will be better than either of them. I'll trust Pirates scouting director Greg Smith, who made the call to take Justin Verlander when he was in the same job with the Tigers.

2. Most scouts seem to believe this is a deep draft, which should benefit the Rays, who have a record 12 picks in the first two rounds. As Rays general manager Andrew Friedman said to the New York Times, "The more arrows you have, the more likely you are to hit the bull's-eye." On the other hand, the Rays' first pick isn't until No. 24 in the first round, in a draft where the top six players seem to have separated themselves from the group (Cole, Hultzen, Bundy, UCLA pitcher Trevor Bauer, Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon and Kansas high school outfielder Bubba Starling).

3. Yes, you read that right. Two UCLA pitchers are expected to go within the first six picks. Before you ask, yes, it has happened before. In 2004, Rice produced three of the top eight picks (all pitchers), with Phil Humber going third to the Mets, Jeff Niemann going fourth to the Rays and Wade Townsend going eighth to the Orioles. And Vanderbilt came close in 2007, when David Price went first overall to the Rays, and Casey Weathers went eighth to the Rockies.

Posted on: June 1, 2011 5:45 pm
Edited on: June 1, 2011 5:58 pm

Jose Bautista: The best player you have heard of

Just a few days back, someone sent me a note on Twitter complaining about All-Star balloting.

"Laughable at best," he said.

Normally, I might agree. But not this week.

Not when the fans make Jose Bautista the leading vote-getter in all of baseball.

Not when Bautista can get more votes than Albert Pujols or Derek Jeter or anybody else in the game, the same week that Time magazine runs a story headlined, "Jose Bautista: The best baseball player you've never heard of."

There's a long way to go before the voting ends, but by June 1 last year, Joe Mauer was already the leading vote-getter. And Mauer ended up on top, with Jeter second and Pujols close behind him. And Bautista -- or any other Blue Jay -- was nowhere close.

That's what makes the Bautista voting even better. This never happens with a Toronto player.

No Blue Jay has ever finished first overall in the voting, not even in the World Series years in the early 1990s. The Blue Jays have had fewer starters elected than any American League team but the Rays, who have 20 years less history.

Last year, Vernon Wells was the leading Blue Jay in voting. He was 58th overall (and with fewer votes than Bautista has already).

Even this year, while Bautista has 1,261,659 votes, no other Blue Jays player has more than 320,874.

This isn't a team stuffing the ballot box. This is a whole bunch of fans recognizing a guy who deserves recognition.

This is a whole bunch of fans, as it turns out, proving Time magazine wrong.

You have heard of Jose Bautista. And you voted for him.

Good for him. And good for you.

Posted on: April 15, 2011 1:13 pm

3 thoughts to end a busy week

What a week in baseball. Two MVPs head to the DL, and another is now a felon. And the guy who was many people's pick to be this year's MVP gets a huge (if totally expected, and already widely reported) contract.

We dealt with Josh Hamilton and Barry Bonds earlier in the week . Now a few quick thoughts on Joe Mauer and Adrian Gonzalez, and a bonus thought on Phil Hughes:

1. In Fort Myers last month, Twins people seemed convinced that Mauer would be fine. There were even suggestions that Mauer could have caught earlier in the spring than he did, but that he didn't want to wear himself out (I even heard a Brett Favre reference). Mauer said then that he caught as soon as he could, and also suggested he might need more time off than usual in April.

Now he's on the disabled list with what the Twins described as bilateral leg weakness, and it doesn't sound good, does it? The Twins figure to know a lot more after Mauer visits a specialist, but that visit has been delayed because Mauer was too sick to fly.

It's worth noting that the last time Mauer went to visit this specialist, he missed the first month of the 2009 season and still won the MVP and led the Twins to the playoffs. It's also worth noting, as Tom Verducci does at SI.com , that more Mauer injuries will bring back the debate of whether he should continue to catch.

That's a legitimate question, but a large part of the reason that Mauer is so valuable (and that the Twins gave him an eight-year, $184 million contract) is that he is a catcher. On any given night, Mauer gives the Twins a huge offensive edge over any opponent's catcher (and a huge edge over anyone else the Twins would catch). As a first baseman, say, how does he match up against Gonzalez, or against Miguel Cabrera?

I remember former Indians general manager Mark Shapiro making exactly that argument when the Tribe left Victor Martinez behind the plate, even while many were calling for him to play first base (albeit because of his poor defense, rather than health concerns).

2. It's hard to get excited about Gonzalez's seven-year, $154 million extension, simply because the probable extension (and even the basic contract terms) were reported back when Gonzalez was traded to the Red Sox in December.

But it's still a huge deal, with the biggest annual salary the Red Sox have ever paid a player.

Gonzalez should thank Mark Teixeira, and not just because Teixeira's $22.5 million a year contract seems to have set a standard that Gonzalez (who signed for $22 million a year) has basically matched.

Remember, the Red Sox tried hard to sign Teixeira when he was a free agent after the 2008 season. They made a huge offer, reported to be more than $21 million a season, and Red Sox people thought they were going to get him right up to the moment he signed with the Yankees.

If the Red Sox had signed Teixeira, who as a free agent would have cost them only money, they don't trade for Gonzalez, no matter how well suited his swing supposedly is for Fenway Park.

3. Plenty of people (including many rival scouts) were expecting the Yankees to pull Phil Hughes from the rotation after two terrible, velocity-deficient starts to begin the season. Now that it's three ugly starts, it's even harder to imagine that the Yankees will continue starting Hughes.

Yankee history says they won't. According to research through baseball-reference.com 's great play index feature, no pitcher in Yankee history (since 1919, anyway) has started the year in the rotation and stayed there after failing to finish the fifth inning in any of his first three starts (as Hughes now has).

With off days next Monday and Thursday, the Yankees could get by with four starters until April 26. But as Yankee officials said before Hughes poor start against the Orioles on Thursday, if Hughes isn't hurt, the best way for him to build arm strength (and theoretically build velocity) is to keep pitching.

In that case, Hughes may be better served by a trip to the minor leagues.

Posted on: April 10, 2011 7:30 pm
Edited on: April 10, 2011 7:31 pm

3 to watch: The most favored opponent edition

Nine games in, the Phillies have the same record they had after nine games last year. They're 7-2, the best record in the National League.

But nine games in, the Phillies have scored 10 fewer runs than they did in the first nine games last year.

Does that mean they really do miss Jayson Werth and Chase Utley? Or does it just mean that they haven't played the Nationals yet?

They do miss Werth and Utley, or at least they should miss them eventually. But it is worth noting that the Phillies played six of their first nine games against Washington last year, and that they scored 50 runs in those six games.

The only reason we're bringing this up now is that Werth left the Phillies to sign with the Nationals last winter, and this week in Washington he'll play against his former team for the first time.

And if the Phillies were off to a slow start, there would no doubt be plenty of talk about how much they miss Jayson Werth.

Instead, Werth is hitting .200 for the Nationals, and the Phils are averaging 6.6 runs a game without him.

And that's without any games against Washington, the team the Phils pounded for 107 runs in 18 games last year.

The 107 runs were the most the Phillies scored against any opponent, but they weren't the most any team scored against any opponent last year.

The Twins scored 130 runs in their 18 games against the Royals (helped by a 19-1 game), and the Brewers scored 125 in 18 games against the Pirates (helped by back-to-back 20-0 and 17-3 wins).

And this week, while the Phillies play the Nationals, the Twins will play the Royals and the Brewers will play the Pirates.

Is there any doubt about the theme for this week's 3 to watch:

1. Ryan Braun is the National League's early home run leader, with four in the first 10 games of the season. And he hasn't even faced the Pirates yet. Braun hit six of his 25 home runs last year against Pittsburgh, the team he'll face in for the first time this year in Brewers at Pirates, Tuesday night (7:05 ET) at PNC Park . Braun has homered off each of the scheduled Pirates starters this week, with one in 16 at-bats against Kevin Correia (Tuesday), one in 30 at-bats against Paul Maholm (Wednesday) and two in 16 at-bats against Jeff Karstens (Thursday).

2. The Twins are off to a slow start. Joe Mauer is off to a slow start. But the Twins haven't seen the Royals yet, and neither has Mauer. Last year, Mauer hit an incredible .516 against the Royals, with 17 RBI in 15 games. He gets his first chance of 2011 in Royals at Twins, Tuesday night (8:10 ET) at Target Field .

3. John Lannan is 29-30 with a 3.87 ERA in 86 career starts against everyone but the Phillies. John Lannan is 0-8 with a 6.09 ERA in 11 starts against the Phillies. He gets another chance -- or the Phillies get another chance -- in Phillies at Nationals, Wednesday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park . Bad news for him: He's matched up against Roy Halladay, who allowed one run in 23 innings in his three starts (all wins) against Washington last year.

Posted on: March 19, 2011 4:35 pm

Mauer catches, Morneau swings, and Twins hope

FORT MYERS, Fla. –- In the stadium, with a sellout crowd watching, Joe Mauer was catching in a major-league game for the first time this spring.

On a back field, with a couple dozen fans watching, Justin Morneau was getting one at-bat an inning against some Red Sox minor leaguers.

And Twins manager Ron Gardenhire? He was on the back field Saturday, with Morneau.

Given a choice of watching his All-Star catcher (recovering from knee surgery) or his All-Star first baseman (recovering from a concussion), Gardenhire chose the first baseman, which only confirms what a Twins person said the day before.

The Twins aren’t overly concerned about Mauer, who caught five innings Saturday. They still aren’t sure about Morneau.

“Mauer’s fine,” the Twins person said. “Morneau’s the one to worry about.”

That might be something of an exaggeration, on both counts. Mauer does seem to be fine, but he suggested Saturday that he may need extra days off in April. Morneau is still a concern, but he was able to play a day game after a night game (a significant step), and some Twins people said that it’s now his bat they’re worried about, more than how he deals with coming back from the concussion.

“When you see him, he looks good,” closer Joe Nathan said. “It’s not about, ‘How’s my head?’ It’s ‘How’s my swing?’”

Morneau is 0-for-10 in major-league games this spring, and while he went 2-for-4 on the back field Saturday, the two hits were ground-ball singles.

“He felt great,” said Gardenhire. “We’re just trying to get him ready.”

Gardenhire admitted that Morneau’s schedule is still dictated in large part by the doctors who have been treating him since he suffered the concussion last July.

Mauer’s schedule has also been the subject of some chatter in Twins camp, with some people saying his delayed appearance in games was a way to save wear on his legs. But Mauer said Saturday that he would have played earlier if he could have.

“I needed the time,” he said.

He also said that “everything’s going as planned,” but followed that up by suggesting that he may not catch as often as usual in the first month of the season. The Twins are scheduled to play on 23 of the first 24 days, beginning with their April 1 opener at Toronto.

Gardenhire joked that with the time Mauer has missed this spring, “He should be fresh.”

It is worth remembering that Mauer missed all of April in 2009, and still won the American League’s MVP award and led the Twins to the playoffs. It’s also worth remembering that the Twins played very well during time Morneau missed with injuries the last two years.

But you’d rather have them playing than not playing, even in March.

“They’re playing now, and that’s all I wanted to do, was get them on the field,” Gardenhire said. “I’m a happy camper.”

Category: MLB
Posted on: March 12, 2011 1:35 pm
Edited on: March 12, 2011 1:37 pm

Twins confident about Morneau

JUPITER, Fla. -- Friday, Justin Morneau played in his first official spring training game .

Saturday, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said confidentlly that he expects Morneau to play on opening day, too.

"He'll get plenty of at-bats [in spring training]," Gardenhire said. "He'll be ready."

Morneau didn't play at all after suffering a concussion on July 7 last year, and the Twins have held him back early in spring training. He's scheduled to play again for the Twins on Sunday in Fort Myers against the Phillies.

"The doctors made up a good schedule for him, the same one he would have made for himself -- no road games," Gardenhire said with a chuckle. "Right now, he's still on the doctors' program. In a while, he'll be on my program."

The Twins have some uncertainty about many of their best players. Joe Mauer caught a bullpen Saturday morning in Fort Myers, but he has yet to catch in a game. Michael Cuddyer has also been slowed, and closer Joe Nathan is coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Right now, though, the Twins seem confident that all of those players will be ready for opening day. Including Justin Morneau.

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