Posts Tagged ‘baseball’

Austin Jackson delivers the game-winning hit in the ninth inning on Thursday against the Boston Red Sox at Comerica Park. Jackson went 3 for 5 with a triple, run and RBI. (AP photo)

Much of the hype and hoopla surrounded Prince Fielder and the Tigers other two big stars in Thursday’s season opener at Comerica Park.

After all Fielder, the $219 million offseason acquisition and son of former Tigers masher Cecil Fielder was making his debut in a town where he spent a good portion of his childhood.

And reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander was back on the mound looking in midseason form.

And Miguel Cabrera was playing his first game at third base since the 2008 season, making his move across the diamond to accommodate Fielder’s arrival. (And he did make an error)

In the end the day belonged to Austin Jackson, the Tigers much maligned leadoff hitter who has been constantly criticized for his numerous strikeouts over his first two professional seasons. It also didn’t help that he took over center field for Curtis Granderson, who put together an MVP-caliber season for the Yankees last year.

After spending the offseason working on his hitting approach (Jackson got rid of his leg kick and shortened his stride to the ball), the center fielder came through with an impressive start to the season. Jackson went 3 for 5 and delivered the game-winning single down the third base line in the ninth inning to score pinch runner Danny Worth and lift the Tigers to a 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox.

It was the first career walk-off hit for Jackson, who bailed out the Tigers after closer Jose Valverde blew his first save since the 2010 season by giving up two runs in the ninth.

Austin Jackson (right) drove in Danny Worth (29) for the winning run in the ninth inning in Detroit's 3-2 win over the Red Sox on Thursday. (Getty Images)

Jackson used all parts of the field with his hits, singling the first pitch he saw from Boston starter Jon Lester into center field to start the game. He tripled to right field to lead off the eighth inning before scoring on Fielder’s sac fly to put the Tigers ahead 2-0. Then with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth he tucked the winning hit just down the third-base line.

Besides using all fields, Jackson didn’t strike out and displayed a good approach when he had two strikes on him. That is worth noting since Jackson has struck out 351 times over his first two seasons in the majors and his strikeout-rate of 27.1 percent was the fifth worst among qualified hitters in 2011. In the third inning, Jackson got down in the count 0-2 before working it full. After seeing a ball, Jackson fouled off a pitch before getting two straight balls. Jackson ended up flying out to center field. In the fifth he was ahead in the count 3-0 before Lester worked it full. He then flied out right.

While it was just one game, the Jackson performance was an encouraging sign for the Tigers to see. The outing resembled some of the many strong performances from his rookie year, where Jackson’s batting average was above .300 for a vast majority of the season and he finished runner-up in the voting for AL rookie of the year.

Him being a table setter for the four power hitters behind him (Brennan Boesch, Cabrera, Fielder and Delmon Young) will make the Tigers offense that much better. And it could be one of the big keys in helping the Tigers accomplish their goal of bringing a World Series title back to Motown.

And more performances like Thursday’s will make fans forget about that guy that patrolled center field in Comerica Park before him.

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The Miami Marlins were the talk of baseball in the early portion of the offseason after making a huge splash on the free agent market in signing shortstop Jose Reyes, closer Heath Bell, starter Mark Buehrle and also acquiring starter Carlos Zambrano in a trade.

Ryan Zimmerman is a cornerstone for a Nationals team that is on the rise. Limited to 101 games because of injury last season, he hit .289 with 21 doubles, 12 home runs and 49 RBIs. (B. Calloway photo)

But quietly, the Washington Nationals look like they are poised to compete and challenge the Marlins and reigning division champion Philadelphia Phillies.

The Nationals made a few moves that bolstered their rotation – and pitching alone should give them as good a chance as anyone in the NL East. Washington finished 80-81 last season – and that was without having their best pitcher for a majority of the season.

A full season with phenom Stephen Strasburg, plus the additions of Gio Gonzalez (acquired in a trade with the Athletics) and Edwin Jackson (signed as a free agent) will give the Nationals a solid rotation. Factor in Jordan Zimmerman (8-11, 3.14 ERA in 2011) and Washington has a strong 1-4. Washington also signed Brad Lidge to bolster their bullpen.

Washington also has a strong core of offensive players led by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and first baseman/outfielder Michael Morse, who had a breakout season in 2011 by hitting .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs season. Up and coming players such as shortstop Ian Desmond, second baseman Danny Espinoso, catcher Wilson Ramos and the highly regarded outfielder Bryce Harper could help the Nationals make some noise in a loaded NL East this season.

If Harper does open the season in the bigs, his success will be a key to the Nationals. Also getting more production out of last year’s big free agent signee Jayson Werth (.232, 20 HRs in 2011) will also be important for Washington’s chances.

Will Rhymes, who opened the 2011 season as the Tigers starting second baseman, is now a free agent after the Tigers declined to offer him a new contract before Monday's non-tender deadline. (Brian Calloway photo)

Will Rhymes might have been short on size but was high on heart.

That is what made the 5-foot-9 and 155-pound Rhymes – a 27th round draft pick out of the College of William and Mary in 2005 – endearing to fans upon his arrival to the big leagues in 2010.

Rhymes wasn’t regarded and didn’t have the tools/skills set of a top prospect like one-time competitor at second base Scott Sizemore had, but turned in a strong showing once called up to the majors during the 2010 season. Rhymes hit .304 in 54 games with 12 doubles and three triples and won over fans with his play. That strong showing over the second half of the season helped in part earn Rhymes the first shot at second base to start the 2011.

Will Rhymes hit .306 in 104 games at Triple-A Toledo in 2011 and was a Triple-A All-Star. (B. Calloway photo)

But Rhymes never got going early in 2011 , batting .221 with 1 double in 19 games before being demoted to Triple-A Toledo and replaced on the Tigers roster by a hot-hitting Sizemore. From there, he pretty much fell out of the Tigers plans.

The 26-year old was a Triple-A All-Star in 2011, but the Tigers obviously don’t see Rhymes in the future plans which is why they declined to offer him a contract for 2012 and allowed him to become a free agent.

Even with the Tigers trading Sizemore to Oakland in May, Rhymes never found his was back to Detroit until rosters expanded in September. Instead the Tigers went with a combination of Carlos Guillen, Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth at second base. And the Tigers appear content right now to use a platoon of Santiago and Raburn for that position in 2012.

This decision by the Tigers brass in essentially the best case scenario for both parties. With Rhymes likely being a longshot to make the major league roster out of spring training, he will get a chance to go elsewhere to try to get back to the majors. And the Tigers still have enough options at second base.

The bullpen was an area the Tigers needed to improve this offseason and they did just that with the acquisition of veteran right-handed reliever Octavio Dotel.

The addition of Octavio Dotel should bolster the Tigers bullpen (Getty Images)

Reports indicate the Tigers signed the 38-year old Dotel to a one-year deal with the option for another. Dotel chose signing with Detroit over returning to St. Louis, where he won a World Series. He is the second Cardinal free agent the Tigers have signed this offseason (Detroit signed St. Louis backup catcher Gerald Laird last month).

Dotel gives the Tigers a strong option for the seventh inning and could give the Tigers a formidable back end of the bullpen with Joaquin Benoit as the eighth inning setup man and Jose Valverde as the closer. Dotel has struck out 10.9 batters per nine innings over his 13-year major league career. He spent 2011 with Toronto and St. Louis, appearing in 65 games and going  5-4 with a 3.50 ERA and 62 strikeouts and 17 walks. Opponents just hit .185 against him.

With Ryan Perry being inconsistent and Al Alburquerque struggling with injuries, the Tigers now have a veteran steady presence for the seventh inning. The Tigers also get flexibility and can alternate Dotel and the lefty Phil Coke for the seventh depending on matchups.

As it stands the Detroit bullpen will likely consist of Alburquerque, Benoit, Dotel, Perry, Daniel Schlereth and Valverde. David Pauley, Duane Below, Adam Wilk and Brayan Villarreal all pitched out of the bullpen in 2011 and could combine for the final bullpen slot, barring any other additions or trades. Below and Wilk also could be in competition for the fifth starter spot.

Dotel is the third offseason signing by the Tigers and all have addressed needs. Laird fills a need as a backup catcher, while allows Victor Martinez to be a full-time DH or spell Cabrera at first base. Detroit also re-signed utility infielder Ramon Santiago, who will likely split time at second base with Ryan Raburn in 2012.

The Marlins reeled in one of this year's top free agents in shortstop Jose Reyes, who reportedly has agreed to a six-year deal worth $106 million. Reyes, 28, led the NL with a .337 batting average and 16 triples in 2011. (AP photo)

The Philadelphia Phillies have been the class of the NL East of late with five straight division titles.

The Miami Marlins appear set on changing the landscape of the division and becoming a force to be reckoned with for the next several years.

The Marlins, who will move into a new stadium next season, have been the busiest team this offseason with the acquisitions of closer Heath Bell (three-year, $27 million deal) and most recently shortstop Jose Reyes (reportedly to a six-year, $106 million deal). It appears Miami isn’t done spending as it has reportedly offered a 10-year deal to free agent first baseman Albert Pujols and could be in the mix for left-handed starter Mark Buehrle, who first-year Marlins manager Ozzie Gullen coached in Chicago.

Albert Pujols appears to be the next target for the Marlins. Miami has offered the 31-year old All-Star first baseman a 10-year deal according to reports.

Keep in mind that the Marlins already had a shortstop in All-Star Hanley Ramirez, who likely will be forced to shift over to third base. If Ramirez cooperates with a move to third and doesn’t demand a trade, the Marlins shouldn’t have any problems offensively in 2012. Miami also has a talented young outfield duo of Logan Morrison (23 HRs, 72 RBIs in 2011) and Mike Stanton (34 HRs, 87 RBIs in 2011)

The NL East could become the toughest division in baseball with the Marlins spending spree. Division power Philadelphia could be losing Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, but still has a strong rotation anchored by Roy Halladay and has other pieces like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Hunter Pence.

Washington will get its first full season of pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg and has some young talent in catcher Wilson Ramos and shortstop Ian Desmond along with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and first baseman/outfielder Michael Morse. The Nationals also have some money to spend and have been linked to free agents such as Prince Fielder and Buehrle.

Atlanta, which just missed out on a wild card berth after its late season collapse, also has plenty of pitching with the likes of  Tommy Hansen, Mike Minor, Tim Hudson and closer Craig Kimbrel (the 2011 NL rookie of the year) and offensive players like catcher Brian McCann, first baseman Freddie Freeman, second baseman Dan Uggla and outfielder Jason Heyward.

The Marlins spending spree obviously doesn’t guarantee they will be good, but the upgrade in talent will make them a threat in an improved NL East.

Aramis Ramirez is a possible addition that could help improve the Tigers in 2012.The 33-year old third baseman hit .306 with 26 homers and 93 RBIs for the Cubs in 2011. (Getty photo)

The Baseball Winter Meetings begin in a few days and that will give the Tigers an opportunity to address some of their needs either via trades or free agency.

The Tigers have made a pair of small moves with the decision to bring back utility infielder Ramon Santiago on a two-year deal, and signing free agent Gerald Laird as a backup catcher. Still, Detroit has plenty of other needs to address and could go a number of different routes to bolster the team for another run at a division title and World Series in 2012. Here are a few options.

  • Sign Aramis Ramirez as an everyday third baseman – As of now the Tigers would go into 2012 with Don Kelly and Brandon Inge splitting time at the hot corner. Inge, 34, struggled against right-handers and hit .197 with three homers and 23 RBIs in 269 at-bats and seemed to lose a notch defensively in 2011. He did hit .242 after the All-Star break while in a platoon with Wilson Betemit. Ramirez, 33, would certainly be an upgrade offensively. He hit .306 with 26 homers, 93 RBIs and 35 doubles in 149 games with the Cubs last season. The question on him would be his defense and how much money Ramirez, a career .284 hitter, would command. The Tigers likely only need him for two years because third base prospect Nick Castellanos should be ready by 2013 or 14.
  • Add an outfielder such as Yoenis Cespedes – Cespedes, 26, has been the hot name among international prospects and could become a free agent next week. The Tigers are among the teams to have shown the most interest in the Cuban outfielder, who has drawn comparisons to former Dodger Raul Mondesi.and former Kansas City Royal Bo Jackson. With many teams in on the bidding for the five-tool prospect, it will be pricy for the Tigers to make this addition. A signing of Cespedes likely means the Tigers could trade Delmon Young to address a need. The Tigers could also pursue a lesser name like Coco Crisp, who led the American League with 49 steals in 2011. His speed would be a welcome addition for a Tigers squad  that – outside Austin Jackson – doesn’t have much speed.

Andy Oliver was 0-1 with a 6.52 ERA in two starts with the Tigers in 2011. The 2009 second-round pick was 8-12 with a 4.71 ERA and 143 strikeouts and 80 walks at Triple-A Toledo. (B. Calloway photo)

  • Add a fifth starter – It is uncertain if Jacob Turner will be ready to step into the rotation so the Tigers would be best served to add another starter, and a lefty like Mark Buehrle could be a good option. Internal candidates include southpaws Duane Below, Andy Oliver and Andy Wilk for the fifth spot. All spent some time on the Tigers roster in 2011. Jair Jurrjens, a former Tiger who the Braves are looking to deal, also would be an interesting addition if the Tigers were able to make that move.
  • Make a run at an infielder like Martin Prado, Chone Figgins or Maicer Izturis – The Tigers could bolster second or third base with one of these three players. The Braves appear to be willing to trade Prado, who hit .260 with 13 homers last season. Figgins is in the midst of a  four-year, $36 million deal with the Mariners and hit .188 last season. He could be motivated by a change of scenery and would be appealing if Seattle – a common trade partner with the Tigers – was willing to eat some of his salary. Izturis, a  31, is a free agent and hit .276 with the Angels last season.

 

Ryne Sandberg was the no doubt heir apparent to be the next manager for the Chicago Cubs.

After putting together a Hall of Fame playing career for the Cubs,  Sandberg remained in the organization as a manager in the minor league and was being groomed to one day return to Wrigley Field as the Cubs’ skipper.

Ryne Sandberg is leaving the Chicago Cubs organization after being passed over for the team's managerial job. Sandberg, who had spent four seasons as a manager in the minors for the Cubs, was beat out by Mike Quade for the manager job.

Except when the time came to name a manager, the Cubs passed up a chance to hit a home run to go with a person that guided the team to a winning record over the final six weeks of the season. That decision has cost the Cubs to lose one of the all-time icons of their organization as he looks to pursue managerial opportunities in the majors. Sandberg announced on Thursday that he wouldn’t return to the organization and turned down the opportunity to return to Triple-A Iowa as a manager.

The Cubs are saying that Sandberg is welcome to return to the organization at any point and to help out, but it shouldn’t have come to the two parties having to part ways. Sandberg should have been the guy to get a chance to lead a franchise that hasn’t won a World Series title in more than 100 years.

Sandberg not only was groomed to be a manager but had established the credentials. He worked his way through the Cubs system, learning the ropes of being a manager.  He began at Single-A Peoria where he spent two seasons before spending a year at Double-A Tennessee and this past summer at Triple-A Iowa. He was the Pacific Coast League’s manager of the year after guiding the Iowa Cubs to an 82-62 record – a mark that was good for a first-place finish. He had winning records in three of his four seasons in the minors.

Hiring him as the manager would have made perfect sense especially since he already has relationships with many of the players who have come up through the system. Instead the Cubs passed up one of their own for Mike Quade, who led Chicago to a 24-13 mark over the final six weeks of the regular season. Players seem to like Quade, which likely went a long way toward him earning the manager job.

For the Cubs sake, they better get off to a great start next season. If they don’t, it will likely be a public relations nightmare for Jim Hendry – especially since they passed over a person they groomed. And if Sandberg does indeed get a job and is able to have success, it would be another horrible move by a franchise that is cursed.