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Baseball Notes

It all starts with starters

Rotational force the key in playoffs

By Nick Cafardo
August 23, 2009

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If you believe in the power of threes, the Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies have a chance to emerge as very good postseason teams, because having three top starters is important in the playoffs.

According to former pitching coach Rick Peterson, the two staffs that pop out are the Yankees’ and Phillies’. Philadelphia, he said, is “without question one of the best rotations in the game.’’ And the Yankees “look like they’ll be tough in the playoffs.’’

Peterson bases his Phillies evaluation on the established Cole Hamels, the addition of Cliff Lee, an effective Joe Blanton, and the addition of Pedro Martinez, who Peterson feels will be a big piece in the postseason picture.

“I think the big thing with Pedro is he can locate that cutter/slider,’’ said Peterson. “If he’s throwing 88-89 on his fastball, he can throw that at 86-87 or even down to 77-78. He can create that 10-mile-per-hour differential.’’

Peterson loves what he sees from New York’s CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and, he said, “[Andy] Pettitte has really started to pitch well, and when you add his postseason record, it’s pretty impressive to think what they could do.’’

He also thinks Joba Chamberlain adds great depth and can be dominant.

The Cardinals appear to have the most formidable threesome right now, with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter and Joel Piniero pitching very well. And mix in Kyle Lohse and the intriguing John Smoltz, who makes his Cardinal debut today. If Smoltz can shake off the rust, Peterson feels, he could give the Cardinals what Martinez gives the Phillies.

“I watched John pitch quite a bit on those starts with Boston and I wouldn’t count him out,’’ said Peterson. “He’s rusty. His velocity is a tick off, and the one pitch I haven’t seen him throw like he did is the split.

“The bottom line is, he wasn’t getting away with mistakes. But I think he’s throwing hard enough, if he can get the split working for him again.’’

Peterson thinks teaming with pitching coach Dave Duncan could be great for Smoltz.

“He can take a pitcher’s skill set and match it up perfectly to the opponent that day,’’ said Peterson. “Dunc studies hitters and tendencies down to a science. That’s where Smoltz is going to benefit.’’

Peterson, who is working with Mark Mulder on a return to the majors and also is developing a pitching program for all ages known as 3P Sports, sees the Atlanta staff as another tough one if the Braves make it as the wild card.

Derek Lowe is 12-8 with a high ERA of 4.45, but his postseason track record is proven. They also have Javier Vazquez (10-9, 3.14) and Jair Jurrjens (10-8, 2.99). Young Tommy Hanson is 8-2, 3.05, and would be a hard guy not to use in the playoffs. One of Peterson’s old pupils, Tim Hudson, could also be back.

“Of all the guys I’ve had, Timmy is one of the most talented,’’ Peterson said. “His ground ball/fly ball ratio was always one of the best, and he can strike out people.’’

The Giants are fighting for their wild-card lives, but if they get in, you have to face Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, and perhaps Jonathan Sanchez.

The Tigers can throw Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, rookie Rick Porcello, and lefty pickup Jarrod Washburn, who has been ineffective since coming over from Seattle. If the White Sox emerge, do they add Jake Peavy to Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd?

It appeared for weeks that the Dodgers needed to add a top veteran to their rotation, but they didn’t do it. It leaves them with Randy Wolf, youngsters Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, and Jeff Weaver as a fourth. Good enough?

If the Angels get Joe Saunders back, that adds some bite to John Lackey, Ervin Santana, and Jered Weaver.

The Rays’ rotation has been an enigma most of the year. They might have messed up when they traded Jackson to Detroit. James Shields and Scott Kazmir have struggled with sub-.500 records. David Price has an ERA over 5.00 and Matt Garza has underachieved, as usual.

The Red Sox are as formidable as anyone with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. As of late, Clay Buchholz has taken the No. 3 slot, but Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka are close to coming back, and if they pitch well, the Sox may want to go with the veterans over Buchholz.

The Sox also have a solid bullpen.

“You either have those top rotations or you have a bullpen that can take over in the sixth inning and be dominant the rest of the way,’’ Peterson said. “The teams which also have the bullpens are in pretty good shape in the postseason.’’

Checking how bad things are

Of all the bad teams in the game, the Nationals have the most hope, following the signing of San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg. In the end, that got Mike Rizzo hired as the permanent general manager. It may even keep Stan Kasten around as president for the foreseeable future.

As for the others:

■Royals: Joakim Soria, Billy Butler, and Zack Greinke. It’s hard to win with a three-man team, but that’s what the Royals are. They still haven’t signed top pick Aaron Crow (who wasn’t subject to the signing deadline), and now that Strasburg has received more than $15 million and Dustin Ackley $7.5 million (from Seattle), the price has gone up on Crow, who turned down $3.5 million from the Nationals last season. It’s 50-50 as to whether the Dayton Moore regime survives.

■ Pirates: Imagine you live in Pittsburgh and have a son or daughter who was born in the fall of 1992. The child has gone through grade school, middle school, and is just about through high school. Basically, for an entire childhood, the kid has never known what it is like for the local baseball team to have a winning season. We hear the coaches are good teachers and are running players through drills as if it’s Triple A. Thought this was a major league team.

■Orioles: There’s talent, and they’ve traded for good young players like Adam Jones. They should turn the corner, but will they? They’re in Year 12 of being below .500. This is an outstanding baseball town, thirsting for a winner. The last good thing was Cal Ripken.

■Reds: How far from the Big Red Machine have things strayed? Bob Castellini is a passionate owner who wants a winner badly, but there have been bad decisions, including the recent acquisition of injury-prone and aging Scott Rolen and his $11 million salaries this year and next. Talk about a good baseball town; this is one of the best. The Reds have a good manager in Dusty Baker, but he has a roster that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

■Padres: This is a long-term project for Jeff Moorad, Kevin Towers & Co. There isn’t going to be much to watch for a long time. Go to the beach. Go sailing. When they deal Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason . . . take a trip north and watch the Dodgers or Angels.

Sale is a chance for Cubs to reach a turning point

Remember when the John Henry group coming in was the best thing that happened to the Red Sox? Well, the Cubs, another storied franchise for mostly the wrong reasons, have a similar chance.

An $845 million sale by the Tribune Company will be finalized tomorrow, giving the Cubs a fresh start. It’s probably too late to save this season, but the Cubs will need a major management overhaul in the near future. That’s where the new owners, the Ricketts family, could get creative rather than bringing in the same folks who have failed in other places.

They need a CEO/president who knows baseball, not marketing types. Find an experienced baseball man who gets it. A guy who will hire the right GM and the right baseball staff.

Commissioner Bud Selig has a lot of influence in these matters, and he has a short list of good people who have run successful franchises and want to do it again.

“They need a dynamic leader who changes the culture of losing around there,’’ said a major league executive. “They may win 90-something games, but what good is it if you lose in the first round of the playoffs? Now they won’t even make the playoffs.’’

GM Jim Hendry has taken heat for his offseason moves of Kevin Gregg, Milton Bradley, etc. Manager Lou Piniella is giving off vibes that he doesn’t want to be there. If that’s the case, as dynamic as Piniella is, maybe it is time for a change.

Cubs fans are the most patient in baseball. They and their parents and grandparents have waited 101 years for a championship. The new owners could be heroes in this town, but, said the executive, “It could also be a disaster if they get the wrong people running the team.’’

Etc.

Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. I know Evan Longoria, and I know he’s not a .270-something hitter; 2. Time for some umpire retraining. When a guy hits someone with a changeup, split-finger, or curve, he’s not intentionally hitting someone, is he? Why so many warnings?; 3. If the playoffs started today, it would be Detroit-New York, Boston-Los Angeles, St. Louis-Los Angeles, and Colorado-Philadelphia; 4. I’d like to see Billy Wagner and his dogged personality with the Red Sox; 5. Give Joe Girardi his due as a well-prepared manager who watches the rebroadcast of every game.

Updates on nine
1. Bill Hall, INF/OF, Mariners - General manager Jack Zduriencik knows Hall, which is why he traded for him. Zduriencik was a Milwaukee executive when Hall had his breakout season in 2006, stroking 35 homers. He loves Hall’s versatility and feels he’s not done at 29. Zduriencik is likely protecting himself at third base (the versatile Hall’s best position), as the Mariners let Adrian Beltre go off into free agency.

2. Dustin Ackley, Mariners - The second overall pick in the draft could be a special player. His bat speed is tremendous, but the real challenge is what position he will play. He played first base at North Carolina because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, but his best position is second base. The Mariners are also thinking about him as an outfielder, and Ackley seems perfect for that as well. But with the Chase Utley comparisons coming fast and furious, there’s going to be a lot of pressure to play him at second.

3. Aaron Bates, 1B, Pawtucket - Not to pick on Bates, but none of the Double A callups to Pawtucket panned out this year, with the possible exception of Josh Reddick, who had some success in Boston but was on a 3-for-25 skid in Pawtucket. Bates hit .212, Bubba Bell .169, and catcher Mark Wagner, who has been solid defensively, has hit .220.

4. Jed Hoyer, assistant GM, Red Sox - He appeared to have a shot at the Nationals’ GM job, but once Mike Rizzo got Stephen Strasburg signed at far less than anticipated, there didn’t seem any reason for owner Ted Lerner or president Stan Kasten to make a change. What’s next for Hoyer? Other jobs may open up in the offseason, potentially in Toronto, Kansas City, or perhaps even Cincinnati if Walt Jocketty steps aside. “I think they grew comfortable with Mike making comfortable decisions for them,’’ Hoyer said. “I’m just grateful that the Lerner family and Stan Kasten gave me the opportunity to interview. Mike has done a very good job under challenging circumstances this season and I wish him all the best.’’

5. Mark DeRosa, 3B, Cardinals - He was a driving force in getting John Smoltz to St. Louis. After the Red Sox designated Smoltz for assignment, DeRosa went to management and pleaded to bring him to St. Louis. DeRosa then told his former Braves teammate how close the Cardinals culture was to what he had enjoyed in Atlanta. Manager Tony La Russa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, and staff ace Chris Carpenter loved the idea as well.

6. Matt Holliday, OF, Cardinals - A tremendous second half is making him loads of money as he heads to free agency after the season. He’s been baseball’s hottest hitter since the All-Star break, batting .409, with 92 total bases and 34 RBIs. Holliday, who now gives Albert Pujols tremendous protection, will also have a postseason to boost his value.

7. Joe Mauer, C, Twins - You can only imagine what Mauer would be hitting if he weren’t a catcher. He has batted .392 since the All-Star break, second only to Holliday. Any chance he would ever play another position? “That’s been bandied about for years,’’ said one of his teammates, “but clearly his value is as a catcher who can hit and who also is a very good catcher. At the very most, you could see him taking on a Victor Martinez-type of role where he catches part of the time and either DHes or plays first part of the time. He’s not going to play first in Minnesota. But I don’t think doing something like that is remotely in his head.’’

8. Dave Trembley, manager, Orioles - A scout who watched the Orioles-Rays series last week noticed a bit of apathy from the Baltimore bench. “They have good talent, a couple of good young pitchers, but there’s no fire over there whatsoever,’’ said the scout. “You’ve got to show your players you’ve got the fire no matter where you are in the standings, and you don’t see that with the Orioles. That really stands out.’’ Trembley has managed the tough times in Baltimore, but will he be around to manage the upswing?

9. Vicente Padilla, RHP, Dodgers - The Red Sox, like most teams, love his stuff, but like most teams, they did not want the potential headache associated with his disruptive behavior. The Dodgers, who were in need of a starter, were willing to take that chance. But it says a lot when a team smack in the middle of a playoff race (Texas), decided to cut ties with a veteran pitcher.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “Julio Borbon had eight stolen bases in his first nine games with the Rangers. That puts him one ahead of Paul Konerko, who has stolen seven bases in 1,665 games.’’ Also, “It’s not easy walking Bengie Molina. In 426 plate appearances, he has 11 sac flies, four HBP, and 10 walks, including two intentionals.’’ . . . Happy birthdays to Marcus McBeth (29), Cole Liniak (33), Mark Bellhorn (35), Jeff Manto (45), and Mike Boddicker (52).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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