Major League Baseball
MLB News Wire
  • Wednesday, October 1, 2014
    MLB to test pace-of-play rules
    By The Sports Xchange

    Major League Baseball announced Wednesday that experimental speed-up rules will be tested during games at the 2014 Arizona Fall League.

    • Commissioner Bud Selig established a committee on Sept. 22 to improve the pace of play. A series of initiatives will be tried when the Arizona Fall League opens Oct. 7 and runs until Nov. 15.

      The average time of nine-inning games in the major leagues was a record 3 hours, 2 minutes this year, up from 2:33 in 1981.

      "The Pace of Game Committee is eager to test various ideas -- ranging from the incremental to the dramatic -- in order to learn more, and we are fortunate to have a setting in which we can do exactly that," Selig said in a statement. "We will work with the appropriate parties -- including players, umpires, our partners, our fans and many other contributors to our game -- to form effective pace of game recommendations that will fit the Major League level."

      Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz, the chairman of the committee, added: "Our committee members have many practical ideas about how we can improve our pace of game. The Arizona Fall League will be a terrific platform during which we can experiment with these ideas and take away some lessons in the hope of streamlining the pace of play."

      Experimental speed-up rules will include the following:

      --Batter's Box Rule: The batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter's box throughout his at-bat, unless one of a series of established exceptions occurs, in which case the batter may leave the batter's box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate. (Exceptions include a foul ball or a foul tip; a pitch forcing the batter out of the batter's box; "time" being requested and granted; a wild pitch or a passed ball.)

      --No-Pitch Intentional Walks: In the event a team decides to intentionally walk a batter, no pitches shall be thrown. Instead, the manager shall signal to the home plate umpire with four fingers, and the batter should proceed to first base to become a runner.

      --20-Second Rule (at 17 Salt River Fields home games only): A modified version of Rule 8.04, which discourages unnecessary delays by the pitcher, shall apply. The rule requires the pitcher to deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball with the bases unoccupied. The penalty for a pitcher's violation of the rule is that the umpire shall call "ball."

      In the games at Salt River, located near Scottsdale, Ariz., a clock will be displayed in both dugouts, behind home plate, and in the outfield. The clock will be operated by an independent operator, who is not a member of the umpire crew. A pitcher shall be allowed 20 seconds to throw each pitch. The batter must be in the box prepared for the pitch during the entire 20-second period. If the batter steps out of the box during the 20-second period, the pitcher may deliver the pitch and the umpire may call a strike, unless the batter was first granted time by the umpire.

      --2:05 Inning Break Clock: There shall be a maximum 2:05 break between innings. Hitters must enter the batter's box by the 1:45 mark. When batters violate this rule, the umpire may call an automatic strike. When batters are set by the appropriate time and pitchers fail to throw a pitch before the conclusion of the 2:05 period, the umpire shall call a ball.

      --2:30 Pitching Change Break Clock: There shall be a maximum 2:30 break for pitching changes, including pitching changes that occur during an inning break.

      --Three "Time Out" Limit: Each team shall be permitted only three time out conferences per game (including extra innings). Such conferences shall include player conferences with the pitcher (including the catcher), manager or coach conferences with the pitcher, and coach conferences with a batter. Conferences during pitching changes, and time outs called as a result of an injury or other emergency, shall not be counted towards this limit. A manager, coach or player will not be permitted to call a fourth time out in violation of this rule. In such cases, the game will continue uninterrupted, and offenders may be subject to discipline.

      In addition, MLB will continue to study potential modifications to its system of instant replay. The 17 home games scheduled at Salt River Fields will feature the review system currently utilized in all major league games, with connectivity to the Replay Operations Center at MLB Advanced Media in New York. Those games will be played under experimental regulations, pertaining to the scope of replay, review initiation, time limits and other factors.

  • Wednesday, October 1, 2014
    Showalter's journey began the old-fashioned way
    By The Sports Xchange

    Buck Showalter, on his fourth rebuilding job but with a chance to see it to euphoric completion for the first time, may be the most compelling story of baseball's postseason.

    • But to interact with Showalter -- the Baltimore Orioles manager who leads the American League East champions into the Division Series against the Detroit Tigers on Thursday -- is to realize the task did not begin in New York with the Yankees, Arizona with the Diamondbacks or Texas with the Rangers.

      It began as an anonymous minor league manager.

      In a game in which the plum managerial jobs are increasingly being awarded to ex-players with big names, Showalter is an endangered species. The career minor leaguer -- he hit .294 but had just 17 homers in 2,865 at-bats from 1977 through 1983 -- who moved into managing at the lowest level because it was the only thing left to do after he was nudged off the field.

      "You know what? Donnie (Mattingly) and Matt Williams have some experience that I don't," Showalter said at Yankee Stadium last week, referring to two former players who became managers of the playoff-bound Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals with little to no minor league seasoning.

      "Does that hurt Donnie and those guys? They've got something I don't. So you've got to bring something. I was very fortunate to have to earn my stop at every place, like a lot of guys do. You take in all that. I don't know how many games I managed in the minor leagues, counting extended spring training. I stepped on my tail plenty of times."

      Showalter reached the majors with the Yankees in 1992 and was the youngest manager in the game for each of his four seasons in New York. He is now 58, the fourth-oldest skipper in the game and the third-most experienced, in terms of games managed.

      But he still finds himself relying on the resourcefulness and the attention to detail that was required during his days managing the Yankees' short-season, Class A and Double-A teams -- and which yields uncommon recall of even the most mundane of events from decades ago.

      While conducting his pregame press conference last Wednesday, Showalter noted he saw Cecil Fielder sitting next to the Orioles' dugout the previous night.

      "He hit the home run here off Steve Adkins, knuckle curve, for his 50th home run," Showalter said. "Remember that? In the upper deck?"

      Indeed, Fielder joined the 50-homer club by hitting a grand slam off Adkins in the first inning on Oct 3, 1990 when Showalter was completing his first season as a Yankees coach.

      "Knuckle curve," Showalter said. "It didn't knuckle and it didn't curve."

      Showalter paused a beat.

      "Penn University," he said, referring to the alma mater of Adkins, who made his final big league appearance the night he served up Fielder's 50th homer.

      Showalter's studiousness came in handy this year when the Orioles lost catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado to season-ending injuries in May and August, respectively. First baseman Chris Davis, who hit 53 homers last season, hit .196 with 26 homers before being suspended for 25 games in September for amphetamine use. In addition, closer Tommy Hunter lost his job after six weeks.

      But Baltimore continued to thrive thanks to a carefully managed rotation that featured just one homegrown pitcher -- the Orioles received 161 starts from six starters -- as well as journeyman infielder Steve Pearce (21 homers in 349 at-bats), career minor league catcher Caleb Joseph (nine homers in 246 at-bats) and left-handed pitcher Zach Britton, a former starter who racked up 37 saves and compiled a 1.65 ERA.

      "People know we may not be able to outspend some teams, but we can out-opportunity them," Showalter said. "You come in with blinders on. I don't want to hear about what he did somewhere else and what his stats were and whatever. Let me have an independent look here and see if we can find something."

      Few managers know better than Showalter what it's like to be tagged with a preconceived notion. He became known as someone whose detailed approach -- or inability to cede control of even the most mundane of tasks -- meant he could build a team up but not carry it across the finish line when the Yankees declined to re-sign him after four seasons and the Diamondbacks and Rangers fired him following his third and fourth seasons at the helm.

      "It's always been perceptions and reality," Showalter said. "Friends that know me -- and really, how many people would you ask to deliver the eulogy at your funeral? (People that) really know you, that you drop your guard around? How many people? The two or three or four in my life kind of chuckle when they see some of the perceptions."

      Yet in the next breath, Showalter acknowledged his role in the creation of his reputation.

      "It's my fault too," Showalter said. "We don't drop our guards. It's not a world where you completely drop everything. As I've gotten older, I think I've felt more and more comfortable about dropping, because I'm 58 and I ain't getting out of this alive and there are things I don't care about."

      One of those things Showalter doesn't care about? Getting the credit for reviving the Orioles, who were in the midst of their 13th straight losing seasons when he was hired in August 2010.

      "You can look at every situation that's gotten better and I guarantee you, you can go back and find some people that took some bullets along the way to get it right," Showalter said before mentioning former Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail and former manager Dave Trembley.

      "People forget that, because I've been that guy too. I mean, someone's got to make the tough decisions to take the bullets to get things right. Things were going better when I got here."

      Showalter also said he's not consumed with the idea that Joe Torre, Bob Brenly and Ron Washington finished what he started. Torre, of course, succeeded Showalter in New York and won four World Series in his first five seasons. Brenly took over for Showalter and promptly managed the Diamondbacks to a world championship while Washington directed the Rangers to consecutive American League pennants.

      "I tell you, I don't dwell on that," Showalter said. "Joe was the right guy at the right time for the job. Same way with Brenly and Wash. It doesn't mean you couldn't have done it. But it worked out great and I'm happy for everybody. Because there's room for everybody."

      Perhaps this is the year there's room for Showalter to finally stand alone at the end, too.

  • Wednesday, October 1, 2014
    Dunn expected to retire without postseason at-bat
    By The Sports Xchange

    Veteran slugger Adam Dunn, who finally made it to the playoffs with the Oakland Athletics but never got off the bench in Tuesday night's wild-card game, is expected to retire after a 14-year career.

    • The A's didn't get Dunn an at-bat during their dramatic 12-inning, 9-8 loss to the Kansas City Royals in the American League wild-card game.

      "That's probably it," Dunn admitted after the game.

      It took the 34-year-old Dunn 14 seasons and 2,001 games just to get to the postseason.

      The Athletics designated hitter told ESPN that he has played his final game.

      "I guess the computer got me," Dunn said, referring to the A's "Moneyball" tactics.

      After the game and well past midnight, Dunn didn't want to take off his uniform, sitting in a back room instead of the clubhouse with most of his teammates.

      When Dunn was traded to the A's in August from the Chicago White Sox, he said the final five weeks of the season possibly would be his last. Dunn batted .212 with a .316 on-base percentage for the A's and hit two home runs with 10 RBIs in 25 games.

      Dunn was just 7-for-35 (.200) with 16 strikeouts in his career against Royals starter James Shields. Manager Bob Melvin informed Dunn on Tuesday afternoon of the decision to not start him.

      "I let him know what we're looking at so he's not surprised when he sees the lineup," Melvin said. "All our guys know that we do things a little differently here at times. We're trying to play for the day."

      Dunn played for the White Sox from 2011 until the August trade. He also played for the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks after starting his career with the Cincinnati Reds. He was a two-time All-Star in 2002 and 2012.

      If he officially retires, Dunn ends his career with a .237 batting average, 462 home runs and 1,168 RBIs.

  • Wednesday, October 1, 2014
    Wild wild-card game: Royals shock A's in 12th
    By The Sports Xchange

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It took 29 years for the Kansas City Royals to host a postseason game, and for the 40,502 fans in attendance Tuesday night, it was worth the wait.

    • The Royals rallied after trailing 7-3 in the eighth inning and 8-7 in the 12th, stunning the Oakland Athletics 9-8 in the American League wild-card game.

      Kansas City advances to play the Los Angeles Angels in the American League Division Series.

      "That's the most incredible game I've ever been part of," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. "The fans were unbelievable. Our guys never quit. When we fell behind in the sixth inning, they kept battling back. They weren't going to be denied."

      Catcher Salvador Perez's single down the left field line capped the two-run, game-winning rally in the bottom of the 12th after Oakland scored in the top of the inning.

      First baseman Eric Hosmer launched a triple off the top of the wall in left-center off Oakland reliever Dan Otero with one out in the bottom of the 12th. Designated hitter Christian Colon then hit a high-chop infield hit to score Hosmer.

      "I definitely hit it good," Hosmer said of his triple. "Nighttime in this ballpark, if you hit a ball and you know it's gone, you've got some serious power."

      Left fielder Alex Gordon popped out to third, but Colon stole second. Jason Hammel entered to pitch for the A's, and Perez ripped a single past third baseman Josh Donaldson to score Colon with the winning run.

      "I was sitting outside," Perez said. "It was a slider. I took a fastball. I missed an opportunity earlier in the game, so I wanted to help the team. He threw a slider down, and I reached out and got a base hit."

      Oakland manager Bob Melvin, who saw his ace, Jon Lester, enter the eighth with the four-run lead, was shocked.

      "I don't feel very good," he said when asked about the win-or-go-home approach. "It was a great game. Both teams played well and played hard, but the short answer to your question is not great.

      "In Jon's case, he pitched well for us. He tired a little bit there after the Hosmer walk, but he left with the lead and gave us a chance to win. You don't expect the score to be (that high) with those two guys pitching (Lester and Royals right-hander James Shields), especially with the bullpens. That's why you play the game."

      Brandon Finnegan, a September call-up who was the Royals' first-round draft pick this June, pitched two scoreless innings before walking right fielder Josh Reddick to lead off the top of the 12th. Reddick scored the go-ahead run on a single by Alberto Callaspo off Jason Frasor, but the Royals kept coming back.

      "He was phenomenal," Yost said of Finnegan. "He came in and banged strikes. He got 2 2/3 innings. I was hoping he'd get his first big league win in a game of this caliber.

      "We had opportunities two or three times. We just couldn't get the big hit until Salvy did it in the 12th."

      Frasor picked up the win, while Otero took the loss.

      Designated hitter Brandon Moss belted two long home runs, but it was not enough for Oakland. He hit a two-run shot in the top of the first off Shields. After the Royals rallied to take a 3-2 lead heading to the sixth inning, Moss belted his second home run of the game, this time a three-run blast. Oakland scored five times in the sixth to jump in front 7-3.

      Lester, who was picked up by the A's just before the trade deadline, struggled early. Unlike Shields, he got things under control for a while. He retired 12 batters in a row at one point. However, he stumbled in the eighth and ended up allowing six runs on eight hits in 7 1/3 innings.

      Shields lasted just two batters into the sixth inning. He gave up four runs on five hits.

      In the eighth, Kansas City shortstop Alcides Escobar rolled a single past Oakland shortstop Jed Lowrie and stole second. Escobar moved to third on right fielder Nori Aoki's grounder to second. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain drove home Escobar with a line drive up the middle.

      Cain then stole second and Hosmer walked, bringing up designated hitter Billy Butler as the tying run and bringing an end to the night for Lester.

      Butler lined a single to right off reliever Luke Gregerson, scoring Cain and driving Hosmer to third. Terrance Gore pinch-ran for Butler and promptly stole second. A wild pitch by Gregerson scored Hosmer to cut Oakland's lead to 7-6, but the Royals wound up leaving the tying run at third base when Perez and second baseman Omar Infante struck out.

      Josh Willingham led off the bottom of the ninth with a pinch-hit single off A's closer Sean Doolittle. Jarrod Dyson pinch-ran. Escobar bunted Dyson to second. Dyson then stole third and scored on a sacrifice fly by Aoki to tie the score and send the game to extra innings.

      The expected pitchers' duel didn't materialize.

      Shields, who was brought to Kansas City in a trade for the Royals' top prospect, outfielder Wil Myers, prior to the 2013 season to pitch in big games, allowed five baserunners in the first three innings. Lester, who came into the game with a 2.11 ERA in 13 career postseason starts, struggled early as well. He gave up three runs on five hits in the first three innings.

      The A's struck first in the top of the first. Moss launched an 0-1 pitch 407 feet into the seats behind the A's bullpen in right field for a 2-0 lead. Center fielder Coco Crisp singled leading off the game and scored on the home run.

      Butler answered in the bottom of the first with a two-out RBI single, scoring Aoki and moving Hosmer to third. Butler then wandered too far off base and got caught in a rundown. Hosmer was tagged out at home trying to score.

      Kansas City took the lead in the third when center fielder Lorenzo Cain pulled a double down the left field line, scoring third baseman Mike Moustakas, who led off with a single. Hosmer then drove in Cain with a bloop hit to left field.

      NOTES: A's C Geovany Soto was replaced in the bottom of the third inning by C Derek Norris. Soto sustained a left thumb injury on the tag play at home plate in the bottom of the first inning. ... Seven members of the Athletics' wild-card roster had not played in the postseason prior to Tuesday, including DH Adam Dunn, who didn't get off the bench in Oakland's loss. Dunn has played in 2,001 major league games, the most among active players without appearing in the playoffs. ... A's LHP Eric O'Flaherty, a reliever, was left off the wild-card roster. His surgically repaired left arm was sore the last week of the season. ... Royals OF Terrance Gore made the wild-card roster after being called up Aug. 31. He appeared in 11 games, nine as a pinch runner. ... RHP James Shields is one of five Royals with prior postseason experience (RHP Wade Davis, OF Raul Ibanez, 2B Omar Infante and INF Jayson Nix).

  • Wednesday, October 1, 2014
    Royals ride momentum into matchup with Angels
    By The Sports Xchange

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After a dramatic win in the American League wild-card game, the Kansas City Royals believe the impossible is possible.

    • The Royals will ride of a surge of momentum into an AL Division Series matchup against the Los Angeles Angels after recording a 9-8, 12-inning victory over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday.

      Kansas City trailed Oakland 7-3 heading to the bottom of the eighth inning, and the A's had ace Jon Lester on the mound. The Royals scored three in the eighth and one in the ninth to send the game to extra innings.

      Then, after the A's took the lead on a two-out hit in the top of the 12th, Kansas City scored twice in the bottom of the 12th to win the game.

      "That's the most incredible game I've ever been part of," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. "The fans were unbelievable. Our guys never quit. When we fell behind in the sixth inning, they kept battling back. They weren't going to be denied."

      Yost admitted to feeling beat after the A's scored five runs in the sixth inning to take a 7-3 lead. His team convinced him otherwise.

      "Your mind wants to think it's dire until our guys came into the dugout and they didn't think it was dire," he said. "They were like, 'We got this. Let's go. We can do this.' To a man, it was impressive to hear the confidence they had."

      Next up for the Royals are the Angels, whose 98-64 record was the best in the major leagues.

      The teams split six games this season, with each team taking two of three in the other team's park.

      The Angels will pitch right-hander Jered Weaver (18-9, 3.59 ERA) in the series opener Thursday night in Anaheim, Calif. The Royals have not announced a starter.

      The candidates to start for Kansas City are Jason Vargas, who last pitched Sept. 24; Jeremy Guthrie, who last pitched Friday; and Danny Duffy, who last pitched Saturday. James Shields was ineffective as the starter in the wild-card game, and the Royals also used starting pitcher Yordano Ventura in relief. Two days after throwing four innings, Ventura allowed two runs on two hits, including a three-run homer by Brandon Moss, while facing three batters Tuesday.

      The Angels are roaring into the postseason. After trailing the Athletics by 3 1/2 games on Aug. 12, the Angels finished 27-15 down the stretch, including a 15-2 stretch. They wound up winning the division by 10 games.

      Los Angeles boasts the nearly certain American League MVP, center fielder Mike Trout, and plenty of power around him. The Angels scored a major-league-high 773 runs, and they led the American League with 1,464 hits. First baseman Albert Pujols, who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, had his best season since joining the Angels, finishing with 28 home runs and 105 RBIs.

      Weaver and left-hander C.J. Wilson are a talented and experienced one-two pitching punch, though Weaver endured an inconsistent year.

      The midseason acquisition of closer Huston Street strengthened the Angels' bullpen.

      Rookie right-hander Matt Shoemaker, who emerged as a key starting pitcher for Los Angeles, should be ready to face the Royals after recovering from an oblique injury. Left fielder Josh Hamilton also will be back in action after missing the last two weeks of the season due to a sore ribcage.

      The Royals are riding high in their first postseason appearance in 29 years, especially the way they reached the next round. They will get a stiff challenge from the Angels, but they believe they can prevail.

  • Wednesday, October 1, 2014
    Stunned A's stumble into offseason
    By The Sports Xchange

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Everything set up perfectly for the Oakland Athletics.

    • They led the Kansas City Royals 7-3 going to the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday in the American League wild-card game. They had their ace, Jon Lester, on the mound, and he had retired 13 of the past 14 batters he faced.

      However, things don't always work out according to plan, and the A's wound up losing 9-8 in 12 innings.

      The finality of the situation stunned manager Bob Melvin.

      "I don't feel very good," he said when asked his thoughts on the win-or-go-home approach to wild-card baseball. "It was a great game. Both teams played well and played hard, but the short answer to your question is not great."

      Melvin said that Lester tired in the eighth, but he didn't make excuses.

      "He left with the lead and gave us a chance to win," Melvin said. "You don't expect the score to be (that high) with those two guys (Lester and Kansas City's James Shields) pitching, especially with the bullpens. That's why you play the game."

      Melvin's hand was played for him because of a couple of injuries. He chose Geovany Soto as his starting catcher because of Soto's ability to curtail the Royals' running game. However, Soto injured his thumb in a play at the plate in the first inning and was gone by the bottom of the third, replacing by Derek Norris.

      Kansas City wound up tying the single-game postseason record with seven stolen bases.

      "That's why you have other guys," Melvin said of his backup catchers. "(Soto) kind of pulled his thumb back on the play at the plate. It got worse and worse. As a catcher, you need your thumb, especially with Lester's cutter."

      Melvin also had to pull center fielder Coco Crisp because of a tender right hamstring in extra innings.

      "If he has to come out of the game it's not good," Melvin said. "For him to go out there and have to come back in means it's bad."

      The offseason is here for Oakland. After trading slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to acquire Lester in July, the A's likely will look for additional offense in the offseason. Lester probably will head elsewhere via free agency.

      Oakland general manager Billy Beane is considered one of the best in the game. He now must prove it again.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Norris replaces injured Soto for A's
    By The Sports Xchange

    Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris replaced catcher Geovany Soto behind the plate in the bottom of the third inning of the American League wild-card game in Kansas City against the Royals.

    • Soto left the game with a left thumb injury, sustained in the bottom of the first inning tagging Eric Hosmer at home plate to end the first inning in a botched first-and-third play by the Royals.

      Soto got the start in an effort to control the Royals running game, which led the majors in steals this season.

      "They steal a lot of bases," A's manager Bob Melvin said in a pregame press conference. "Soto has done a great job with that. He's worked very well with all the pitchers on our staff since he's come over. He's acclimated very quickly. They like throwing to him, and he's got a better history right now of throwing guys out. And swinging the bat well, too, so as we make our lineup out every day certainly for important games, we look at all sides of it, and that was definitely one of the sides we looked at."

      Stephen Vogt is the other catcher on the 25-man roster, although he has not caught since July.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Wild-card notebook: A's omit O'Flaherty from roster
    By The Sports Xchange

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty, who enjoyed an impressive comeback season following Tommy John surgery, was left off the Oakland Athletics' roster for the American League wild-card game Tuesday.

    • O'Flaherty sat out the last eight days of the regular season due to a sore left elbow. After he threw to hitters Monday, the decision was made to omit him from the roster for the elimination game against the Kansas City Royals.

      "(He) didn't love the way the ball was coming out of his hand, so it just didn't seem prudent to put him on the playoff roster right now," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said, according to MLB.com.

      O'Flaherty's elbow was reconstructed in May 2013 while he was a member of the Atlanta Braves. He returned to action with Oakland on July 4, and he made 21 appearances for the A's this season, going 1-0 with one save and a 2.25 ERA.

      "It's natural when you've had a surgery like that and you feel something, that it scares you a little bit," Melvin said. "I think that's the case for him right now, but I'm not sure. But we weren't going to run him out there when he's not feeling great, and that is the case right now."

      Even with the move, the A's had three left-handers in their bullpen: closer Sean Doolittle, middle reliever Fernando Abad and long reliever Drew Pomeranz.

      --In setting the roster for Tuesday, the A's kept only two members of their rotation: left-hander Jon Lester, who started against the Royals, and right-hander Jason Hammel. Right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Sonny Gray and left-hander Scott Kazmir were omitted.

      The roster additions included speedy rookie outfielder Billy Burns, who stole 54 bases in the minors this year. He added three steals in four attempts for Oakland.

      --Kansas City kept four starting pitchers on the roster, omitting only left-hander Jason Vargas. Tuesday's starter, right-hander James Shields, was joined by right-handers Yordano Ventura and Jeremy Guthrie and left-hander Danny Duffy. Ventura pitched four innings Sunday against the Chicago White Sox, allowing four runs and eight hits.

      The Royals' bench also included a fast rookie outfielder, Terrance Gore. He went 5-for-5 in steal attempts for Kansas City this year, 47-for-54 in the minors. Gore appeared in 11 games, nine as a pinch runner, and made two plate appearances (0-for-1 with a hit-by-pitch).

      --Seven members of the Oakland roster had no previous postseason experience, including Adam Dunn. The veteran designated hitter played in 2,001 major league games, the most among active players without appearing in the playoffs

      --Only five Royals entered the night with postseason experience: Shields, right-hander Wade Davis, designated hitter Raul Ibanez, second baseman Omar Infante and INF Jayson Nix.

      --The A's and the Royals met in the 1981 American League Division Series. In the strike-interrupted season, Oakland finished with the best record (37-23) in the AL West during the first half of the season. The Royals (30-23) finished with the best record in the second half. Oakland swept the three game series.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    MLB roundup: Scherzer to start opener for Tigers
    By The Sports Xchange

    Right-hander Max Scherzer will be the Game 1 starter for the Detroit Tigers in their American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles, the team announced Tuesday.

    • Right-hander Justin Verlander will follow Scherzer in Game 2, left-hander David Price will get the ball for Game 3 and right-hander Rick Porcello will pitch Game 4 for the Tigers.

      Also Tuesday, it was reported that the Tigers could be without outfielder Rajai Davis for the series. He sustained a groin injury Saturday that could keep him off the ALDS roster. Davis batted .282 this season in 134 games.

      Scherzer finished the regular season with an 18-5 record and a 3.15 ERA. He will face Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34 ERA) in the opener Thursday in Baltimore.

      ---Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton declared himself ready to go for the American League Division Series despite playing just one regular-season game in September.

      The 33-year-old has been out with a myriad of injuries to his shoulder and ribs, but participated in baseball activities Tuesday for the second day in a row in preparation of Thursday's ALDS game between the winner of Tuesday night's AL wild-card game between the Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals. Hamilton hit .263 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs in an injury-shortened 89 games this season.

      In addition, right-hander Matt Shoemaker said after Tuesday's bullpen session-- his second in three days -- that he will be available to start in the ALDS. He has been dealing with a mild left oblique strain, but if healthy, would likely start Game 2 of the ALDS. Shoemaker went 16-4 with a .304 ERA this season.

      ---Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon is a go for Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals after sitting out the final game of the regular season with a hip injury.

      Gordon was cleared to play in the series opener in Los Angeles after making it through a workout with the team on Tuesday. He left Saturday night's game against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning after grounding out to shortstop in his first at-bat. A similar injury forced him to miss a game earlier in the month.

      In 148 regular-season games, Gordon batted .289 and had 64 stolen bases, a NL-best 12 triples and 92 runs. He was named to his first NL All-Star team in July.

      ---New York Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran had surgery Tuesday on his right elbow to remove a bone spur and loose pieces, the team announced.

      The Yankees said Beltran will be able to begin throwing and hitting in about six weeks. He is expected to be ready for spring training in February.

      The 37-year-old had a disappointing first season with the Yankees after signing a three-year, $45 million contract in the offseason. He batted a career-low .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs in 449 plate appearances.

      ---Two days after starting the Boston Red Sox's regular-season finale, right-hander Clay Buchholz underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

      General manager Ben Cherrington said Buchholz dealt with the knee problem the entire season but finished with an 8-11 record and a 5.34 ERA with two complete-game shutouts.

      In the final game of the season, Buchholz gave up four runs and five hits in six innings in the Red Sox's 9-5 loss to the New York Yankees. He faced retiring Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter twice and gave up an RBI single on a high chopper to third base.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Hamilton, Shoemaker both ready to go for ALDS
    By The Sports Xchange

    Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton declared himself ready to go for the American League Division Series despite playing just one regular-season game in September.

    • The 33-year-old has been out with a myriad of injuries to his shoulder and ribs, but participated in baseball activities Tuesday for the second day in a row in preparation of Thursday's ALDS game between the winner of Tuesday night's AL wild-card game between the Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals.

      Hamilton has been saying for about a week that he anticipated being ready for the Angels' playoff opener, and reinforced that notion after taking batting practice, running bases and throwing long toss Tuesday.

      Hamilton hit .263 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs in an injury-shortened 89 games this season.

      In addition, Angels right-hander Matt Shoemaker said after Tuesday's bullpen session-- his second in three days -- that he will be available to start in the ALDS.

      Shoemaker has been dealing with a mild left oblique strain, but if healthy, would probably start Game 2 of the ALDS.

      "Everything felt great," Shoemaker told MLB.com. "I'd say great, but it felt normal, which is great."

      Shoemaker went 16-4 with a .304 ERA this season.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Dodgers' Gordon cleared for NLDS opener
    By The Sports Xchange

    Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon is a go for Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday against the St. Louis Cardinals after sitting out the final game of the regular season with a hip injury.

    • Gordon was cleared to play in the series opener in Los Angeles after making it through a workout with the team on Tuesday.

      He left Saturday night's game against the Colorado Rockies in the first inning after grounding out to shortstop in his first at-bat. A similar injury forced him to miss a game earlier in the month.

      In 148 regular-season games, Gordon batted .289 and had 64 stolen bases, a NL-best 12 triples and 92 runs. He was named to his first NL All-Star team in July.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Buchholz has knee surgery
    By The Sports Xchange

    Two days after starting the Boston Red Sox's regular-season finale, right-hander Clay Buchholz underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

    • Red Sox general manager Ben Cherrington said Tuesday that Buchholz dealt with the knee problem the entire season.

      Buchholz finished the year with an 8-11 record and a 5.34 ERA with two complete-game shutouts.

      In the final game of the season, he gave up four runs and five hits in six innings in the Red Sox's 9-5 loss to the New York Yankees.

      Buchholz faced retiring Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter twice and gave up an RBI single on a high chopper to third base.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Tigers send out Scherzer for Game 1 of ALDS
    By The Sports Xchange

    Right-hander Max Scherzer will be the Game 1 starter for the Detroit Tigers in their American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles, the team announced Tuesday.

    • Right-hander Justin Verlander will follow Scherzer in Game 2, left-hander David Price will get the ball for Game 3 and right-hander Rick Porcello will pitch Game 4 for the Tigers.

      Also Tuesday, it was reported that the Tigers could be without outfielder Rajai Davis for the series. He sustained a groin injury Saturday that could keep him off the ALDS roster.

      If Davis is unable to play, his replacements in center field would be Don Kelly and Ezequiel Carrera. Davis batted .282 this season in 134 games.

      Scherzer finished the regular season with an 18-5 record and a 3.15 ERA. He will face Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman (13-6, 3.34 ERA) in the opener Thursday at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

      Anibal Sanchez, who spent time on the disabled list late in the season with a pectoral strain before returning, will work out of the Tigers' bullpen during the series against the Orioles.

      Verlander struggled for much of the season but finished with strong outings against the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox.

      Price pitched 7 1/3 innings in the final game of the regular sason on Sunday to help the Tigers secure the AL Central title.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Yankees' Beltran undergoes elbow surgery
    By The Sports Xchange

    New York Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran had surgery Tuesday on his right elbow to remove a bone spur and loose pieces, the team announced.

    • The procedure was performed by team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

      The Yankees said Beltran will be able to begin throwing and hitting in about six weeks. He is expected to be ready for spring training in February.

      Beltran played only 32 games in the outfield this season for the Yankes because of limitations with the elbow that restricted his throwing.

      The 37-year-old had a disappointing first season with the Yankees after signing a three-year, $45 million contract in the offseason. He batted a career-low .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs in 449 plate appearances.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    NL Wild Card Preview: Bumgarner, a Giant edge
    By The Sports Xchange

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Madison Bumgarner has made six postseason starts, and he enjoyed his fair share of success in those games. However, when the left-hander takes the mound Wednesday in Pittsburgh in the National League wild-card game, he will have to deal with a new experience.

    • An elimination game.

      Giants manager Bruce Bochy made it official Sunday: Bumgarner will get the ball in the loser-goes-home showdown with the Pirates.

      Bumgarner, an 18-game winner this year, went a combined 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA during the Giants' postseason runs to World Series titles in 2010 and '12. However, even though San Francisco faced six must-win games in 2012, Bumgarner was never scheduled to pitch any of them.

      While the Giants are confident their top starter is on the mound, the Pirates rolled the dice on Sunday.

      Right-hander Gerrit Cole started with the chance to win the National League Central as the reward there for the taking. But the Pirates loss to the Cincinnati Reds revealed the risk in that decision.

      Right-hander Edinson Volquez has been the Pirates' hottest pitcher with a 1.36 ERA in September, but his recent track record -- MLB-worst 5.71 ERA in 2013 among qualified starters and one miserable postseason start -- might be reasons for Hurdle to perspire.

      "We're going to find out. But I like our team," Hurdle said. "I like our fight. I like our grit."

      Volquez was chased from the 2010 National League Division Series by the Phillies before the second inning was over. His resurgence, 13-7 this season with the Pirates, breeds confidence in the clubhouse according to Cole.

      "He's been there all year ... it's hard not to be impressed," Cole said.

      Bumgarner faced the Pirates once this season, and it did not go well. He gave up four runs in the first inning and five overall in four innings in a 5-0 loss.

      That game was at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Bumgarner had most of his success on the road this season, going 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA.

      "We've got confidence," Giants second baseman Joe Panik said. "We've got our horse (Bumgarner) going. When he's on the mound, we've very confident wherever we play."

      NOTES: Opposing hitters had a .225 batting average against Pirates RHP Edinson Volquez at PNC Park. ... Giants 1B/OF Travis Ishikawa will start in left field against the Pirates. Ishikawa doesn't have much experience in left field. He made just his third big-league start there Sunday. However, he is hitting well enough as a starter (nine RBIs in 14 starts) to earn manager Bruce Bochy's call in the elimination game. ... Right-hander Tim Hudson would be the Game 1 starter for the Giants in the NLDS at Washington. ... Pirates C Russell Martin (hamstring) is officially day-to-day after sitting out the last two games of the regular season, but said he is ready for Wednesday's game. The chronic left hamstring issue will be monitored closely in the postseason, manager Clint Hurdle said.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Banged-up Rangers can only go up
    By The Sports Xchange

    ARLINGTON, Texas -- Considering the team's lofty expectations when 2014 began, the Texas Rangers enter the offseason coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history.

    • Everything went wrong, starting with injuries to key pieces.

      The resignation of manager Ron Washington with 22 games left in the season capped a horrible year.

      "Certainly, at the lowest point of the summer, when the writing was on the wall and we were out of it, it was disappointing, and I think, at times, we were embarrassed," general manager Jon Daniels said. "Obviously, we have high expectations as we go into this offseason. We expect to win every year. We've created that expectation, created that atmosphere, the culture."

      The first order of business, of course, is hiring a new manager.

      Interim manager Tim Bogar is thought to be the leading candidate to take over full time, though Daniels won't rubber-stamp his ascent. Daniels will conduct a search involving, at this point, two other internal candidates and four or five external candidates. Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux and Triple-A Round Rock manager Steve Buechele, a former Rangers player, will be interviewed.

      "I think the atmosphere that was created, the communication with the players, the in-game management ... were all very good," Daniels said of Bogar. "I really appreciate the job he did and that factors in for me."

      At the same time, Daniels added, "I think it's really important for the organization to get this hire right."

      Daniels would prefer to have the manager hired by the end of October.

      Texas figures to be vastly improved in 2015, if not a contender, with players such as first baseman Prince Fielder, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and left-handed pitcher Derek Holland returning to full health. Holland came back from knee surgery late in the season and was very effective.

      Daniels said his focus as far as on-field personnel will be on adding a starting pitcher to join staff ace Yu Darvish, Holland, one of either right-handed pitchers Nick Tepesch or Nick Martinez and a fifth starter, likely Colby Lewis.

      The bullpen wasn't spared injuries, either. Right-hander Tanner Scheppers, who began the season in the rotation, moved to a relief role and eventually was lost to an arm injury. However, right-handers Phil Klein and Roman Mendez both demonstrated ability while forced into action this year.

      Even if everybody missing from the lineup returns, the Rangers are expected to be a bat, maybe two, short with the expected departure of right fielder Alex Rios. Team management is also enthusiastic about the development of 20-year-old second baseman Rougned Odor.

      "I think all that said as we've come through here the last month, for me, there were a lot of building blocks," Daniels said. "A lot of positive things to look back on, high expectations."

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Improving Astros boast solid core, new manager
    By The Sports Xchange

    HOUSTON -- Somewhat lost amid the hoopla of the rightful celebration for second baseman Jose Altuve winning the first batting title in club history was the fact that the Astros improved by 19 victories from 2013.

    • For an organization in the throes of a protracted rebuild, finishing 70-92 stands as an achievement on the heels of three consecutive 100-loss seasons. Plenty have lambasted the Astros for stripping down their major league roster and painstakingly rebuilding through the draft and via trades, but even the most pessimistic would admit that the Astros appear to be heading in the right direction as a franchise. For all of their front office missteps this summer, the results speak for themselves.

      "At the beginning of the year, I was asked about what we were trying to achieve win-loss-wise, and I said we're looking for a ... step in the right direction," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told MLB.com. "I didn't know what that meant in terms of wins and losses, but I thought we would know. And I do feel we know.

      "We've made a substantial improvement. More important, we feel we've got a foundation in place to build on to get the team to the next level, and the next level really is a .500 team or better. I think we're in position with a good offseason to get there."

      What the Astros unearthed was a core that should serve as the foundation for their offense moving forward. Altuve (.341/.377/.453), rookie outfielder George Springer (.231/.336/.468), center fielder Dexter Fowler (.276/.375/.399) and designated hitter Chris Carter (.227/.308/.491) each finished above the league average in adjusted OPS and, barring unexpected offseason contract snafus regarding Carter and Fowler, appear primed for repeat performances in 2015.

      However, the Astros received just 78 games from Springer and 116 from Fowler, and with the rest of their offense lagging, they finished below the league average in weighted runs created. Where they made the biggest gains came with their starting pitching, with left-hander Dallas Keuchel (12-9, 2.93 ERA) emerging unexpectedly as a staff ace, right-hander Collin McHugh (11-9, 2.73) producing beyond expectations off the scrap heap, and right-hander Scott Feldman (8-12, 3.74 ERA) producing exactly what the Astros desired after his offseason signing.

      "It all starts with the starting pitching, and we made some giant strides," Luhnow said.

      While they have ample right-handed pitching depth in the minors, the Astros could stand to fill out their rotation with another dependable veteran arm. Considering the non-waiver trade deadline acquisition of Jake Marisnick, the Astros appear set in the outfield and might be poised to wait on the development of top prospect Carlos Correa at shortstop and Colin Moran, who joined the organization in the same trade that netted Marisnick, at third base. Catcher Jason Castro took a step back offensively, but he seems entrenched as the backstop for the immediate future.

      One thing is for certain now that the offseason has arrived: The Astros named former Diamondbacks manager and former Padres vice president of scouting A.J. Hinch as manager. Hinch replaces Tom Lawless, who went 11-13 as the interim manager after the firing of Bo Porter.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Road woes buried Rockies
    By The Sports Xchange

    DENVER -- The Colorado Rockies endured their fourth consecutive losing season, although they managed to end their streak of two consecutive last-place finishes in the National League West.

    • That was small solace in a very poor year. The Rockies' 66-96 record was the second worst in the club's 22-year history. Colorado lost 98 games in 2012.

      The Rockies historically struggle on the road, but they reached new depths in 2014. Losing five of six games on their final trip of the season left Colorado with a 21-60 road record, the worst in franchise history. That old mark was set by the 2003 team that went 25-56 on the road.

      Colorado lost 39 of its final 45 road games, including 30 of 35 after the All-Star break.

      The Rockies scored a franchise-worst 255 runs on the road, the fewest in the majors, and batted .228. Only the 2010 Rockies had a lower road batting average (.226).

      Colorado lost 12 of 16 home games in June and had to win 13 of its final 15 home games to finish 45-36 at Coors Field. That was not good enough, given the ongoing difficulties on the road.

      "We've got to win a minimum of 50 games at home to even get in the conversation for the division (title)," manager Walt Weiss said. "I think it's probably closer to 52 or 53, which is dominating. Which is what we need to do."

      The Rockies' 4.84 ERA was the highest in the majors. The 4.89 ERA of their starters and 4.79 ERA by their relievers both were the worst in the National League. Colorado used 15 starting pitchers, tying the club record set in the inaugural 1993 season.

      The Rockies actually began the season well and were tied for first on May 7 with a 22-14 record. They went 44-82 (.343) the rest of the season.

      Key regulars were sidelined for long stretches with injuries. Shortstop Troy Tulowitkzi was limited to 91 games and didn't play after July 19. Left fielder Carlos Gonzalez played 70 games, the last on Aug. 8. Right fielder Michael Cuddyer missed 99 games during three stays on the disabled list.

      When healthy, Gonzalez, Tulowitzki and Cuddyer were the heart of the batting order.

      "We don't have the impact on the road without those guys," Weiss said. "One of them could hit a three-run homer or strike quickly. ... On the road, it seems like we needed to put together three hits to score (one) run sometimes."

      Additionally, third baseman Nolan Arenado missed 37 games during the first half of the season, a stretch in which the Rockies went 10-27. He also missed the last two weeks of the season due to pneumonia.

      Injuries also badly compromised the rotation, where Jorge De La Rosa was the only starter to make more than 22 starts. Tyler Chatwood, Jordan Lyles, Brett Anderson and Jhoulys Chacin all were sidelined for long stretches.

      Injuries are a variable for every team. The Rockies entered the season thinking they were deeper than a year earlier, but the health woes exposed a lack of pitching depth in the system.

      The bullpen was weighed down by an increased workload caused by injuries to the starters, and Franklin Morales and Juan Nicasio, both of whom began the season in the rotation, struggled and ended up in the bullpen. Ultimately, Colorado relievers worked 525 2/3 innings, the second-highest total in the NL.

      The bullpen suffered because Boone Logan, whose three-year, $16.5 million contract is the largest the Rockies ever gave a reliever, was a huge disappointment. He ended up on the disabled list four times, three due to left elbow problems. Also, left-hander Rex Brothers, who had a 1.74 ERA in 72 games in 2013 and starred while setting up and closing, badly regressed, finishing with a 5.59 ERA and ending up being used in low-leverage situations as a specialist.

      There were a few bright spots. Reliever Adam Ottavino became very dependable in an eighth-inning role, and reliever Brooks Brown, a 29-year-old rookie who made his major league debut in July, gained Weiss' trust and ended up pitching late in games and doing very well. Rookie left-hander Tyler Matzek, who overcame some extreme control issues in the low minors, made his major league debut in early June and seized his opportunity.

      The Rockies signed first baseman Justin Morneau to replace retired Todd Helton, and the move paid off. Morneau led the NL in batting at .319 and was very consistent, hitting .309 on the road and .327 at Coors Field while providing veteran leadership.

      Outfielders Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson thrived. Blackmon began the season hitting leadoff and thrived in that role as far as power and stolen bases. Injuries gave Dickerson the chance to play regularly, and he hit for power and average.

      Ageless LaTroy Hawkins, 41, a setup man for the Rockies when they went to their only World Series in 2007, returned as their closer and did well.

      Ultimately, though, the negatives overwhelmed the positives, and the Rockies fell hard. They finished the season on the road with four consecutive losses, and after the last one at Dodger Stadium, Weiss addressed the players.

      "I told them how much I appreciate the way they showed up every day, especially through the toughest of times this year," Weiss said. "They never wavered in that department. I also told them we have a lot of work to do, and to get their minds right this offseason. Take a break, then get back to work, and be ready to turn this thing around next year."

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Bottom-dwelling Cubs showing signs of turnaround
    By The Sports Xchange

    CHICAGO -- It was a maddeningly familiar finish for the Chicago Cubs in 2014 -- fifth place in the National League Central for the fifth consecutive year.

    • But the Cubs' tenure as NL bottom-dwellers may be coming to an end as a promised turnaround under general manager Jed Hoyer and club president Theo Epstein appears to be finally picking up speed.

      Despite an overall 73-89 final record, the Cubs avoided a fourth consecutive 90-loss season and had a winning mark (28-27) over the season's final two months with series wins over the Dodgers, Orioles and Cardinals -- all playoff qualifiers.

      Top minor league prospects got a taste of the majors late this season and there's more in the pipeline. Some reliable starting pitching emerged -- notably performances from righty Jake Arrieta and right-handed reliever Hector Rondon -- while veteran stars 1B Anthony Rizzo and SS Starlin Castro each had comeback years.

      And genial first-year manager Rick Renteria eased his team through rough stretches into late-season promise with his upbeat and encouraging manner.

      "I think that all those guys know we want to step it up," Renteria said after Sunday's season finale in Milwaukee. "We need to come out, go into spring training really prepared to be a better club (and) with the expectations of us again improving and making ourselves hopefully the topic of conversation throughout the season."

      The Cubs could finally stop being sellers -- shedding top pitchers at the trading deadline for prospects -- and make a plunge into the free-agent market to build on the foundation.

      Oakland lefty Jon Lester (16-11 with a 2.46 ERA with two clubs this season) is rumored to be a top free-agent target.

      Lester would help a team that could use more starting pitching, and also needs more stability in the bullpen, timely hitting and -- as one Cubs executive suggested -- more clubhouse and on-field leadership to supplement emerging leaders Rizzo and Castro.

      It will be a different Wrigley Field the Cubs will return to next April with a giant video board and additional signage, the first visible portions of a $600 million-plus rehabilitation of the ballpark, which turns 101 years old next season and hasn't hosted a World Series since 1945.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Padres need big changes offensively
    By The Sports Xchange

    SAN DIEGO -- A.J. Preller has been on the job only two months as the general manager and he goes into the offseason trying to find ways to improve the worst offense in the major leagues without hurting one of the game's top pitching staffs.

    • Change has to come to the Padres, who finished 77-85 this season after back-to-back 76-86 campaigns.

      But it won't be in the managerial role. Preller said Monday that the Padres will have Bud Black back for a ninth season at the helm in 2015 -- although the Padres have never reached the playoffs under Black.

      Everything else is open to discussion with changes from the front office to minor league coaching expected. But the biggest changes could be on the field.

      The Padres were at or near the bottom of the major leagues in almost every offensive statistic. And they were at the top in most pitching categories. So Preller heads into what promises to be an interesting winter looking for hitting without surrendering too much pitching.

      As a team, the Padres offense reached near historical lows this season. The Padres hit .226 as a team with a .292 on-base percentage and a .342 slugging percentage for a .632 OPS and 3.3 runs per game. Let's see, checking the major league statistical charts that's last, last, last, last and last.

      But Padres pitchers posted the fourth-best earned run average in the major leagues and the Padres allowed the fewest runs in franchise history. The Padres' bullpen ERA of 2.73 was the best in the major leagues by more than a quarter-of-a-run per game.

      So how might the Padres get better in 2015? Trade pitching for hitting.

      "I already get the sense that we have pitchers attractive to other clubs," Preller said Monday morning while addressing the Padres media at Petco Park. "Our seventh, eighth, nine and 10th starters seem attractive along with some of our minor league pitchers.

      "We've got frontline pitchers and depth. I'm willing to look at anything."

      But how many pitchers can the Padres trade for hitters? And who might they offer.

      The Padres are uncertain of starting position players in at least five spots next year -- all three outfield posts plus third, first and maybe shortstop -- although Alexi Amarista did such an excellent job at short over the final three months that Preller and Black might be willing to go with the utility king at short in 2015.

      The only places where they are set are catcher with the tandem of Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal and second, where Jedd Gyorko is set (unless he moves to third) despite hitting only .210 in a 2014 season partially destroyed by plantar fasciitis.

      If Rivera, the position surprise of 2014, is the regular behind the plate in 2015, the switch-hitting Grandal could see most his playing time at first.

      But Carlos Quentin is a knee injury that will happen in left, Cameron Maybin is a major disappointment in center, Will Venable's bat fizzled in 2014 and Seth Smith is solid against right-handed pitching but a liability against left-handers. Not a quality outfield starter among the four.

      And most of the third-base possibilities on the season-ending roster are better suited to utility roles than playing every day.

      But would the Padres be willing to trade their projected 1-2 punch of RHPs Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross at the top of rotation to bring in a bat? Would Ian Kennedy bring in the bat you need? Might they dip into the bullpen and trade closer Joaquin Benoit?

      What price in pitchers are the Padres willing to pay to improve their bats?

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Injuries too much to overcome for Diamondbacks
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Diamondbacks learned this season that you cannot play hurt and expect ringing success. Injuries to top pieces Patrick Corbin, Paul Goldschmidt, Mark Trumbo, A.J. Pollock and Bronson Arroyo were too much to overcome in a 98-loss season that cost general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson their positions.

    • Tony La Russa, brought in in May as the chief baseball officer, hired general manager Dave Stewart and director of baseball operations De Jon Watson as his front office team -- with an accent on team -- in the final week of the season, and the crew immediately went to work on identifying Gibson's replacement. The D-backs won the NL West with 94 victories in Gibson's first year in 2011 but regressed thereafter.

      Ace and 2013 All-Star Corbin suffered a season-ending elbow injury that necessitated Tommy John surgery in the middle of spring training, veteran Arroyo underwent Tommy John surgery in July, and late-inning reliever David Hernandez also missed the season after Tommy John surgery in March. It left the D-backs with a thin rotation, and they suffered. The D-backs (64-98) had the worst record in the league and the fifth-worst ERA (4.26).

      "Let's be honest," interim manager Alan Trammell said on the final day of the regular season. "One hundred years ago, today, one hundred years from now, pitching is the No. 1 component in baseball. Always has and always will be. Never change. Without it, you can't win. End of story. You need others parts, but that has to be it."

      Dave Stewart, an ace of La Russa's Bash Brothers teams of the last 1980s in Oakland, wants to add a frontline starter this winter, although the top-tier free agents such as Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields likely will price themselves out of the D-backs' range, even though their payroll is expected to remain in the nine-figure range after topping out a franchise record $112 million at the start of 2014. The team has an excess of middle infielders, but Stewart said a trade is unlikely.

      "I'm not going to be going into the market looking to actively trade one of our middle infielders," Stewart said. "If it makes sense for our ball club, I'm going to do what's best for the ball club. We need frontline starting pitching. If it allows us an opportunity to get that, we'll have to examine that. We're going to try to maintain what we have. We are going to try to maintain our minor league system.

      "Maybe you add a piece this year and you add a piece next year and you get where you want to be."

      The D-backs lost more player-games to injury than any team other than Texas this season, and Stewart said he believes that with health will come a return to normalcy. All-Star Paul Goldschmidt missed two months, slugger Mark Trumbo missed 11 weeks and center fielder A.J. Pollock missed three months. The offense scored 615 runs, 25th in the league, and should be better next season. But pitching is the key. NL Central winner St. Louis (90-72) scored only 619 runs.

      The loss of playing time for some meant instant immersion for others, and outfielders David Peralta and Ender Inciarte thrived when given the chance. The two finished 1-2 in batting average among NL rookies with at least 325 at-bats, Peralta hitting .286 and Inciarte .278. Peralta, a converted pitcher, had nine triples. Inciarte had 19 stolen bases and 10 assists.

      La Russa expects the payroll to be in the $80 million-$110 million range, and that suits him fine.

      "If you have a hundred million dollar payroll, you don't have a complaint," La Russa said. "I never had one in St. Louis. That's plenty of money to compete with and win with. The key is, can you be smart with it. If you have young guys they are not as expensive. The thing you try to avoid is winning the PR offseason battle for the fans. We're going to try to assess value. We're fortunate with the performance of guys like Ender and David, there is less urgency to go out and get a big bat of a leadoff hitter that cost a lot of money."

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Anthopoulos believes Jays are getting close
    By The Sports Xchange

    TORONTO -- Alex Anthopoulos says he is excited about the approaching offseason.

    • After pulling off a couple of major deals before the 2013 season that fooled the Toronto Blue Jays into thinking they were instant postseason contenders, the general manager did little last offseason.

      The Blue Jays used a 21-9 May to put themselves into first place in the American League East from May 22 to July 2 this season. However, injuries and lack of performance pushed them into a slide. They wound up in third place and out of postseason competition for the 21st consecutive year, baseball's longest current futility streak.

      "I felt like we were close," Anthopoulos said. "Obviously, we were there the bulk of the year. We can go through individual games. Everyone can do that. It was games we could have won or it was games that we won that we probably shouldn't have won. People replay some of those things all the time, and I don't know if it's fair because you never remember the breaks that went your way. For me, it was that last road trip (to Baltimore and New York)."

      The Blue Jays went 1-6 against the Orioles and the Yankees on that Sept. 15-21 trip, and any chance they had was gone. Even so, Anthopoulos feels the talent is there, if certain improvements are made.

      "I'm pretty excited about this offseason," he said. "It's probably the first time I've said it, as much because there's going to need to be some turnover in certain areas, but we're going to have some flexibility just because we had a set roster coming into (2014), whether it was guys who were coming back, guys who were under contract.

      "As much as it seems like we've got some looming free agents, and we do, or some guys with options, and those decisions need to be made, there's also an opportunity to add some players and to have some turnover with some guys that I think are going to continue to take a step forward. It can be really exciting."

      The Blue Jays likely will pick up options on pitchers Dustin McGowan ($4 million) and Brandon Morrow ($10 million), and probably designated hitter/first baseman Adam Lind ($7.5 million) and left-hander J.A. Happ ($6.7 million), too.

      They likely will lose center fielder Colby Rasmus and closer Casey Janssen to free agency. They will try to re-sign left fielder Melky Cabrera. How that turns out could influence everything else Anthopoulos does.

      The rotation evolved into a solid unit with R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and Happ. Aaron Sanchez, who pitched in relief the final two months of the season, could become a starter next season. The bullpen will need fixing, and a new closer likely will need to be found.

      "I do think we have some relievers -- and I think there's some guys out there that might not be quote-unquote closers, that if given the opportunity can close," Anthopoulos said. "We're going to look to add relievers, and there may be someone that we add via trade or add through free agency that we announce as the closer. There may be a bunch of guys that we add or sign and say they're going to compete to be the closer, depending on who they are."

      The Blue Jays need a second baseman. They must decide who plays center field, and they need to improve the defense generally.

      "We know the free agents that are out there," Anthopoulos said. "I have a sense of some of the players that could be available (in a) trade. Once you get to the offseason, I expect a whole other group of players to be available. That gets done in the month of October. At some point, we'll come up with where the payroll is going to be, all that kind of stuff. But I expect us to continue to try to build and add and put a World Series team on the field."

      The fans would appreciate just getting to the playoffs for starters.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Rotation gives Indians cause for optimism
    By The Sports Xchange

    CLEVELAND -- One year after making the American League wild-card game, the Cleveland Indians were competitive again in 2014, remaining in contention until the season's final week.

    • While the win total fell from 92 in 2013 to 85 in 2014, the Indians made important progress in one essential area. The rotation emerged in the second half as one of the most productive and efficient staffs in the AL.

      The starting-pitching transformation came about despite the decline and eventual trade of the Opening Day starter, Justin Masterson. Masterson's poor season, which resulted in him being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals at midseason, was a big reason why the Indians struggled in the first half. An All-Star in 2013, Masterson was expected to be the ace of the staff this year, but that never happened.

      Fortunately for the Indians, Corey Kluber blossomed into one of the best pitchers in the major leagues and a strong candidate for the AL Cy Young Award. Kluber went 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts and was consistent from start to finish.

      "It's not smoke and mirrors. Everything he's done is legit," manager Terry Francona said. "You talk to hitters on other teams about him, and they are like, 'Whoa!' Some guys, you watch them on tape and you say, 'How come no one can hit this guy?' But with Kluber, you watch him on tape and you can see why nobody can hit him. The way his ball moves, late. The location. He throws strikes."

      The second-half rotation also included Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and T.J. House. Carrasco and House, in particular, flourished late in the season, but the group as a whole will all be back next year, which is encouraging news.

      The bullpen was also a team strength, with Bryan Shaw appearing in a club record 80 games and three other pitchers, closer Cody Allen, Marc Rzepczynski and Scott Atchison all appearing in more than 70 games, all with ERAs under 2.80. That group will also be back next year, as will rookies Kyle Crockett and C.C. Lee, who both pitched well in 2014.

      While the 2015 pitching staff will be solid, but the same cannot be said about the team's defense and hitting.

      The Indians' defense made the most errors (116) and had the lowest fielding percentage (.981) in the major leagues. That combination led to an alarming number of unearned runs allowed, and in many ways sabotaged the team's great pitching, especially in the second half. In particular, the infield defense was troublesome.

      "That was one of the head-scratchers all year," Francona said of the team's shoddy defense. "We shot ourselves in the foot a lot. We put ourselves in predicaments too many times. That's something we've got to improve for sure."

      Another area of concern is the inconsistent offense. The Indians finished seventh in the league in runs scored, but in the second half, they were much worse than that.

      Cleveland got productive years out of only three positions players: left fielder Michael Brantley, catcher Yan Gomes and first baseman Carlos Santana.

      Brantley had an MVP-caliber season while becoming the first player in Indians history with 200 hits, 40 doubles, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a season.

      Gomes was one of the top-hitting catchers in the league, batting .278 with 21 home runs and 74 RBIs. Santana only hit .231, but he had career highs in home runs (27) and RBIs (85), and he led the American League with 113 walks, the sixth-highest total in club history.

      As the club looks ahead to 2015, two big keys offensively will be designated hitter Nick Swisher and second baseman Jason Kipnis, who of whom both had poor seasons in 2014.

      Swisher hit .208 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs before undergoing season-ending double knee surgery in mid-August.

      Kipnis, an All-Star last season, had the worst year of his career. After hitting .284 with 17 home runs and 84 RBIs last year, Kipnis tumbled to .240-6-42 in 2014.

      "This is the first year he's struggled, and he didn't like it at all," Francona said, "but I bet he will come back next year with a vengeance."

      Swisher still has two years and $30 million left on the four-year, $56 million contract he signed as a free agent in December 2012. At age 34, coming off two consecutive bad years and double knee surgery, he is virtually untradeable. Cleveland probably will be forced to play him at designated hitter and hope for the best in 2015.

      After signing Swisher and center fielder Michael Bourn (four years, $48 million) to big free agent contracts two years ago, the Indians were quiet on the free agent front last winter. They desperately need another hitter or two, preferably a right-handed hitter, but coming off a season in which they finished last in the major leagues in attendance, it is questionable whether they will have the budget to adequately address their needs in the offseason.

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014
    Roenicke may not return after Brewers' collapse
    By The Sports Xchange

    MILWAUKEE -- For the Milwaukee Brewers to move forward and begin planning for 2015, they will need to take a look back -- a long, in-depth, maddening, disappointing and, in some cases, infuriating, look back.

    • For a team that wasn't expected to be much of a factor in 2014, the Brewers turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments in baseball in 2014, leading the tough NL Central for 150 days, only to fall out of playoff contention with a miserable final month.

      "It's been a hard year, it has," said manager Ron Roenicke whose future is uncertain after four seasons at the Brewers helm. "It's been the hardest since I've been here. Last year, we had a lot of things that came up but this year has been harder."

      Mark Attanasio, the Brewers owner, said Saturday that general manager Doug Melvin would be back in 2015. But when the topic turned to Roenicke, who has a 335-313 and one playoff appearance (2011) in his four seasons at the Brewers' helm, neither Attanasio nor Melvin was ready to talk.

      "There was a particular team that shook everybody up and now they had to shake their front office up," Melvin said. "You have to be careful with what you do and think through the process. We've had a lot of changes here recently. If you look back at what your team looked like four years ago -- teams are altogether different. Your roster, just through the natural causes of the system that we are in with arbitration and free agency, changes quite a bit anyways."

      Should Roenicke return, he will have the benefit of bringing back his entire starting rotation -- and have some depth for the staff -- which finished third in the NL with 103 quality starts.

      Pitching, though, wasn't the problem in 2014. Milwaukee quite simply couldn't hit.

      While just about everybody on the roster struggled at one point or another in the course of the season, nobody epitomized the Brewers' offensive woes better than right fielder Ryan Braun, who hit a career-worst .266 with 19 home runs, though he did lead the team with 81 RBIs in his first season back after serving a 65-game suspension last year for using banned substances.

      Braun spent much of the season dealing with a nerve issue in his right thumb -- an issue that dated back to before his suspension -- but he'll undergo a surgical procedure next week and both he and the Brewers are optimistic that it will help Braun, the 2011 Most Valuable Player, return to form.

      "If I was relatively healthy and performing up to the standard I've set for myself, we'd be in a different place as a team," Braun said. "It makes it that much more difficult for me personally to accept the way the season went.

      "I'm definitely looking forward to (the surgery). I'm excited, optimistic and hopeful that it makes a big difference."

      Scooter Gennett is positioned to take over second base full-time in 2015, with shortstop Jean Segura expected to bounce back from a subpar sophomore season, but the corner infield spots remain a priority before spring camp opens next season.

      The Brewers exercised their end of a mutual option on third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who hit .285 with 15 home runs, 23 doubles and 66 RBIs in his age-36 season. He also played well, defensively, and with no viable options in the farm system, would be welcomed back for one more go-round in Milwaukee.

      Across the diamond may be the Brewers' biggest need. In six full seasons with the Brewers, first baseman Prince Fielder started 959 of 972 games but since he left as a free agent following the 2011 season, the position has been a revolving door for the Brewers -- often with disastrous results.

      The first-baseman-by-committee approach of 2013 was shelved in favor of all-or-nothing slugger Mark Reynolds in 2014, with veteran Lyle Overbay providing a left-handed bat and defensive upgrade off the bench.

      Overbay excelled as a pinch-hitter but likely won't be back and Reynolds, who was on a one-year-deal, fell off the map so mightily in the second half that September call-ups like Matt Clark played themselves into consideration.

      It's no secret the Brewers have interest in the Rockies' Justin Morneau. The team won a waiver claim on the National League batting champ but was unable to work out a trade with Colorado so it wouldn't be a shock if Melvin tried again to swing a deal or kicked the tires on free agents like Adam LaRoche.

      "We'll take a hard look at everything," Melvin said. "We look at players individually, we'll look at the coaching staff, we'll look at Ron, I'll look at myself to see if we can put things together to come back here and get into the postseason. It's a tough division to play in, and the Cubs are going to get better, the Pirates will be there, the Cardinals are always tough and the Reds will get healthy. I still think it is one of the toughest divisions in baseball. That's a challenge that we are all faced with."

      With lots of questions facing the Brewers this winter, one thing is certain: Nobody in the organization wants a repeat of 2014.

      "I wouldn't say we're quite at a crossroads, but we're at (the point) where you can take a path in the woods, and you take one direction or the other," Attanasio said. "We do have a lot of talent; we have experienced players. We need to identify what's missing. Is it more power hitters? Is it more players with an edge? Is it, I don't know. Whatever it was, it worked like gangbusters the first half of the year, and didn't work in the second half."

  • Monday, September 29, 2014
    Silver lining seen in dismal White Sox season
    By The Sports Xchange

    CHICAGO -- The answer to whether 2014 was considered a success or failure for the Chicago White Sox depends entirely on perspective.

    • If you're looking for a black or white response, the White Sox's 73-89 record and fourth-place finish in the American League Central wasn't good enough

      "If you're asking me for a pass-fail grade on the 2014 season, it's a failure," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, whose club finished sub-.500 for the second straight year. "The goal is to win a championship. The goal is always to win a championship, and [we didn't] do that."

      And yet, if you believe in gray areas, there's reason to believe 2014 was a success -- especially when compared to the unmitigated disaster of 2013, when Chicago finished 63-99 with the third-worst record in baseball.

      In only one year's time, Hahn and the White Sox's front office has found a new star hitter in first baseman Jose Abreu. The team gained some financial breathing room with in-season trades that removed designated hitter Adam Dunn, second baseman Gordon Beckham and left fielder Alejandro De Aza from the payroll.

      They got another stellar season out of left-handed ace Chris Sale, despite a month-long stint on the 15-day disabled list. Along with Sale, the White Sox have the potential for an imposing starting staff with left-hander Jose Quintana developing into a de factor No. 1-A option. Left-hander Carlos Rodon rocketed through the minor leagues this summer after being drafted third overall in June.

      John Danks, a fourth left-handed starter, went 11-11 and threw 20 quality starts -- one shy of his career best. The lone right-handed starter, Hector Noesi, steadily lowered his ERA by about seven points from the time he was claimed off waivers in late April from the Texas Rangers.

      That's not even mentioning the success of leadoff hitter Adam Eaton, the scrappy center fielder with great wheels. Hahn acquired Eaton last offseason from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for former closer Addison Reed.

      Right fielder Avisail Garcia is another nice acquisition by Hahn, who got Garcia in a three-team deal in 2013 that sent former White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy to the Boston Red Sox and shortstop Jose Iglesias from Boston to Garcia's original club, the Detroit Tigers. Garcia missed the bulk of the season following April surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left (nonthrowing) shoulder, but he possesses star potential.

      He's got the frame of a younger Miguel Cabrera, and posted batting averages akin to his former Tigers' teammate throughout the minors. Garcia struggled a little at the plate upon his return from surgery, but the White Sox are anxious to see what he can do in a full season.

      Should he stay healthy and regain his hitting prowess, the White Sox might have themselves an imposing 1-2 punch with Garcia and Abreu anchoring the lineup for years to come.

      "From the standpoint of putting ourselves in position to win multiple championships, there are some successes that we can feel happy about [this season]," Hahn said. "So, there's a lot of positive in terms of getting us closer to where we want to be, but we're by no means there yet. We knew going in, going back 15 months or so when this thing began in earnest, this was going to be a multiyear process.

      We can be pleased about how that first year-plus of it has gone, but we absolutely have to follow it up with another success, another strong year of success, and that starts in earnest [Monday]."

      Hahn will be active again this offseason, both in free agency and possibly in trades.

      His primary goal is to upgrade a bullpen that needs several effective arms, from both sides, and still lacks a true closing option. It was the one area that continually gave manager Robin Ventura headaches that he'd rather not have next year

      "When you look at our bullpen, you wish that was better," said Ventura, whose job appears safe. "You don't know if it's going to be guys that are improving or different people. That's just the way the game goes. You look at what you're weak at and try to figure out a way to improve it. There's quite a few things."

      Along with getting bullpen help, left field, designated hitter, second base and possibly the starting catcher role might be addressed this winter.

      Outfielder Dayan Viciedo and catcher Tyler Flowers are both arbitration eligible, but it's still unclear whether either will return.

      As for Beckham's vacated spot at second, internal candidates Micah Johnson, Carlos Sanchez and Marcus Semien could enter spring training in a three-horse race to fill it. All of those situations will be dissected and discussed in depth.

      "When you end up 15 games back in your division, you look back at a lot of games you lost; see how you lost them, why you lost them," Ventura said. "I think defensively for us, there's ways to improve.

      "Offensively there's ways to improve. There's a lot of different things to it. We'll definitely go over that. We've been going over that as we move along and kind of start focusing on what we want to see this offseason."