MLB News and Notes June 30

MLB News and Notes June 30

Battle for the AL East
By Judd Hall

The Rays and Red Sox have been strange bedfellows at the top of the standings in the American League East for the better part of the season. While many expected Boston to be in this spot, Tampa Bay was not. In fact, they were picked to finish no better than fourth by some expert before the start of the season.

Boston now holds the slimmest lead of any divisional leader at this point of the season, a half-game, over the Rays. Tampa Bay has kept up in this race by winning eight of its last 11 matches, the Red Sox have barely stayed above .500 in that stretch with a 6-5 mark. These division foes opened June with a three-game set in Beantown that the BoSox swept by a combined score of 19-6.

That sweep is indicative of how the season series has gone between these teams as the visitors have failed to win a match yet (12-0).

This three-game set at Tropicana Field will determine which club will take lead the AL East as the All-Star break fast approaches. Let’s break down each matchup.

Game 1:

The Red Sox open this series by sending rookie hurler Justin Masterson to the mound. Masterson has looked strong in his first full season at the major league level, posting a 4-1 record with an earned run average of 3.43 in seven starts. The Kingston, Jamaica native won his lone start against the Rays, yielding four runs off of six hits in six innings of work on June 3.

Tampa Bay sends James Shields out to counter the Boston batting order. Shields has gone 5-5 with a 3.76 ERA in 2008, but his time against the Red Sox has been less than memorable this year. He’s gone 1-2 with an astronomical ERA of 7.24 in just 13 2/3 innings of work.

The Rays’ right-hander has not had much luck against the Boston power duo of left fielder Manny Ramirez and designated hitter David Ortiz. Those sluggers are hitting a combined .333 against Shield with four home runs and 13 runs batted in. What will help Tampa Bay is that Ortiz is still out with a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist.

Masterson hasn’t had a lot of exposure against the Rays since he only has the one start. Despite that lack of history, he does have one batter to look out for in the opening game of the series. Tampa Bay first baseman Carlos Pena was recently taken off of the disabled list, going one for eight in his first two games back in the lineup. Not exactly Earth-shattering, I know but you must remember that Pena is two for two with three RBIs and a four-bagger.

Take a look at fading the Sox on the run line in this spot as Masterson is 2-5 in this situation. You should be able to get the Rays around plus 155 (risk $100 to win $155).

Tampa Bay is 9-5 SU in the first game of any series at Tropicana Field in 2008.

First pitch for the opener is to go off at 7:10 pm EDT.

Game 2:

The middle act of this series sees knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (5-5, 3.88 ERA) toe the rubber for the Red Sox against Tampa Bay’s Matt Garza (6-4, 3.76 ERA).

Wakefield has had great success against the Rays over his career, going 19-3 with a 3.16 ERA. Yet he’s primed to fade right now after losing four of his last five road starts, giving up 19 runs in 29 2/3 innings pitched. Needless to say that his totals have soared in that stretch as the ‘over’ is 3-1-1.

The Rays’ Garza is coming off of a masterful performance on the road against Florida where he pitched a complete game one-hitter for a 6-1 victory. He’s also been nearly unbeatable at the Trop, going 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA, while opposing teams are hitting just .219 on him. He’s also seen the ‘under’ hit in four straight appearances and six of his last seven.

The Red Sox have seen the ‘under’ go 9-4-2 in last 15 Game 2’s on the road this season.

This match is slated for a 7:10 pm EDT.

Game 3:

The final tilt of this showdown also gives us the best pitching matchup as Daisuke Matsuzaka (9-1, 3.21 ERA) squares off with Scott Kazmir (7-3, 2.28 ERA).

Boston’s ace is making his third start since returning from a strained rotator cuff. If the progression Matsuzaka has shown in the first two appearances, then we should see him back at full strength on Wednesday. Dice-K was rocked on June 21 at home against the Cards, pitching just over one inning and allowing seven earned runs. The second start on June 27 at Houston went much better as he allowed no runs in five innings pitched.

As dominant as Matsuzaka has been against the rest of the American League, he has issues with the Rays. In five lifetime starts against Tampa Bay, he’s gone 1-3 with a 4.09 ERA.

Kazmir, on the other hand, has fared better with a 6-6 mark and ERA of 2.82. The Rays’ No. 1 starter is great at home, going 17-13 with a 2.93 ERA for his career. However, his recent starts have left much to be desired.

In his first eight starts of the year, Kazmir averaged 7 1/3 innings pitched. His last three appearances have seen him average just five innings.

The finale is set to begin at 7:10 pm EDT.

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Injuries force Braves to use three rookies in rotation
By ASSOCIATED PRESS

ATLANTA (AP) -Tim Hudson stood at his locker this week, trying to think back to the days when Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were the mainstays of the Atlanta Braves' rotation.

Hudson needed to dig deeper and deeper in history.

''For young guys to come in six, or eight, or I guess it was 10 years ago, that would have been pretty intimidating for a young guy,'' Hudson said.

It has only been six years since the three last pitched together in Atlanta. Now, Jair Jurrjens, Jorge Campillo and Charlie Morton are rookies, and Jo-Jo Reyes just misses qualifying as a rookie. Each of the four has less than one year's service.

How dramatic is the makeover of the Braves' rotation? Manager Bobby Cox left spring training believing he would have four 20-game winners: Hudson, Smoltz, Glavine and Mike Hampton.

Instead, Hudson is the only current starter with 10 wins in his career.

Smoltz has had season-ending shoulder surgery, Glavine is out with an elbow injury and Hampton, who was hurt warming up before his first start, hasn't pitched in the major leagues since 2005.

The good news for general manager Frank Wren is the new starters are pitching as well as he hoped the veterans would perform.

Atlanta entered the weekend leading the NL with a 3.64 ERA. Jurrjens is the NL rookie leader with nine wins. Campillo (2.54) and Jurrjens (2.94) rank among the rookie ERA leaders.

The Braves have had less success keeping their offense going through a wave of injuries, but the rookie starters are the big reason the team is only three games behind Philadelphia in the NL East.

''Those three, my gosh, they're holding us together,'' said second baseman Kelly Johnson. ''They're the reason why we're four games out instead of 10.''

Glavine hopes a tear in the flexor tendon of his left elbow will heal without surgery, allowing a midseason return. But he may face surgery and a difficult decision on whether to attempt a comeback in 2009. He returned to Atlanta after five seasons with the New York Mets, thinking 2008 might be his final season.

''I don't know if it's scary,'' Glavine said this week. ''It's just not fun and it's disappointing. I came back here obviously to try and be a part of something here and help this team win, and a large part of what I brought back here was the consistency of going back out onto the mound every five days, and I haven't been able to provide that.

''I've been very fortunate and very blessed to get as far as I have without injury and do the things I've been able to do. If my elbow blows out at 42 and I'm not able to pitch anymore, I'd be disappointed and sad but I think I'd be able to accept it. I'm not willing to go down that road yet. I think that's another few weeks away.''

Smoltz, 41, had his season-ending shoulder surgery on June 10. He said he hopes to begin throwing within four months when he'll start to learn if he can attempt a 2009 comeback. He says he may not know if he can pitch again before next spring.

Hampton, returning from two elbow surgeries, suffered a strained left pectoral before his first start and has made two appearances in his minor league rehabilitation.

''Obviously we've had some tough luck with injuries this year, more so than most teams probably can endure, but we've had some young guys step in and really make an impact so far,'' Hudson said. ''That's great for the future and this organization as far as pitching goes. I'm 32 and I'm by far the oldest guy in the rotation.''

Of the new starters, only the 22-year-old Jurrjens has been in the rotation all season. He came to Atlanta in the offseason trade that sent shortstop Edgar Renteria to Detroit and pitched so well in the spring that he began the season as the No. 3 starter.

Campillo, 29, is 3-2 with a 2.54 ERA in 22 games, including eight as a starter. The former Mexican League star had Tommy John surgery following his only start for Seattle in 2005. He signed with Atlanta as a minor league free agent in December and has impressed Cox with his consistency, nasty curve and his control.

Campillo gave up only four hits in seven innings and recorded six strikeouts without a walk in Wednesday's 4-2 win over Milwaukee.

''He's legit,'' Cox said, adding Campillo ''has been excellent every time out.''

Morton, 24, was a third-round pick in 2002 who struggled in the minor leagues before breaking out in 2007. Morton caught Cox's eye with his 4-1 record and 2.57 ERA in the Arizona Fall League and was called up from Triple-A Richmond on June 14.

Reyes was 2-2 with a 6.22 ERA in 50 2-3 innings in 2007. He is 3-5 with a 4.48 ERA.

''It is a total makeover from what we had anticipated,'' Wren said. ''We kind of used all our assets we accumulated over the winter to get through it, but they've done a good job. You really can't ask for anything more.

''I think if everything had gone as planned, we'd be happy with where we are pitching-wise. That just tells you how good a job these guys have done.''

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Monday's streaking and slumping starters
By JUSTIN BANKS

Streaking

Eric Stults, Los Angeles Dodgers (2-0, 0.60)


Stults has opened his third MLB season with a splash. The left-hander is 2-0 with a sizzling 0.60 ERA and 0.80 WHIP surrendering just 10 hits and one earned run in that span. He also has eight strikeouts against a meager two walks in his last two starts.

In one road game, the righty conceded just one earned run in six IP. He also has one hit and an RBI in six at bats this campaign.

Los Angeles is 5-1 in its last six tilts against the NL Central.


Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals (7-4, 3.40)

In five seasons in Kansas City, Greinke has never finished with a winning record, but this season could be different. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 22 strikeouts in his last three starts, including a 10-strikeout outing against the Rockies on Tuesday.

Greinke is 3-3 outside KC, but is fresh off a road win over the Cards last Thursday in which he collected seven strikeouts and surrendered just one earned run in seven innings.

The Royals are 5-0 in their last five road games and 6-1 in their last seven overall.


Slumping

Miguel Batista, Seattle Mariners (3-10, 6.53)


Batista is amidst the worst season of his 10-year MLB career. The journeyman pitcher is 0-2 with a towering 14.73 in his last three outings as a reliever. In his last three tilts, Batista has conceded six earned runs and walked seven in a mere three IP.

Monday’s tilt versus the Blue Jays marks Batista’s first start since an 11-3 loss to the league-leading Red Sox on June 7. To make matters worse, the Mariners are one of the most futile offensive clubs in the league batting .254 with 318 runs on 685 hits.

Seattle is 1-9 in its last 10 at Safeco Field and 5-12 in its last 17 against the AL East.


Jeremy Sowers, Cleveland Indians (0-3, 5.97)

Sowers is winless in his last nine starts dating back to 2007. He is coming off a respectable outing last week against the Mariners, but conceded 19 hits in his last three outings, surrendering 10 earned runs in a mere 13 innings.

The left-hander is 0-2 with a 5.00 ERA in his last three outings and is 0-2 with a 6.60 ERA on the road. He is also winless with a 3.00 ERA in one career start at U.S. Cellular Field.

The Tribe is 0-4 in Sowers' last four-road starts. Cleveland is also 0-4 in its last four trips to U.S. Cellular Field.

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NATIONAL LEAGUE

Milwaukee (44-37) at Arizona (41-41)


Right-hander Dave Bush (4-7, 4.94 ERA) leads the surging Brewers into a four-game series at Chase Field against the Diamondbacks, who will counter with left-hander Doug Davis (2-3, 3.68). On Sunday, the Brewers were dealt a 5-0 road setback against the torrid Twins. However, Milwaukee beat Minnesota 5-1 on Saturday night and is still on a 9-4 tear in its last 13 games. The Brew Crew is also 10-4 in its last 14 against the N.L. West and 7-1 in its last eight against left-handed starters.

Arizona, which has been in a tailspin for weeks, is currently in a 2-7 funk after Sunday’s 4-3 loss at Florida in which the Snakes blew a 3-2 ninth-inning lead. The DBacks are just 7-20 in their last 27 games against winning teams, but behind Davis, they are on runs of 18-5 at home and 11-5 against winning teams.

These two teams played a three-game set the first week of June in Milwaukee, with the Brewers sweeping the series by a combined tally of 21-5. Milwaukee is 8-3 in the last 11 head-to-head battles over the past two seasons and 4-0 in the last four with Bush going against Arizona.

Bush is coming off his best two-start stretch of the season, as he held the Braves and Blue Jays to a combined two runs and six hits in 15 innings, winning 4-3 at Atlanta and 8-7 over Toronto at home. Despite Tuesday’s win in Atlanta, though, the Brewers are still 7-21 in Bush’s last 28 starts on the highway.

Davis hasn’t notched a win since May 23, going 0-2 with four no-decisions, and Arizona has gone 2-4 in those contests. On Tuesday at Boston, he threw a respectable seven-plus innings, allowing three runs on seven hits, but he got his third straight no-decision as the D-Backs lost, 5-4.

Bush has struggled on the road this year, going 1-5 with a 6.92 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts). However, he is 4-0 with a 3.55 ERA in his four career starts against Arizona. Meanwhile, Davis is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in four home starts this year. The 32-year-old former Brewer will face his ex-team for the first time in his career.

The under for Milwaukee is on runs of 5-1 overall, 12-3-1 against lefties, 11-4-1 in series openers and 5-2-1 with Bush working on the road. For Arizona, the under has cashed in six of its last eight games and is 5-0-1 in Davis’ last six Monday starts. Finally, the under is 6-3-1 in the last 10 clashes between these teams since the start of last season.

ATS ADVANTAGE: ARIZONA and UNDER


AMERICAN LEAGUE

Boston (50-34) at Tampa Bay (49-32)


In a matchup pitting the top two teams in the American League, the Red Sox will send rookie right-hander Justin Masterson (4-1, 3.43 ERA) to the mound at Tropicana Field against the Devil Rays and James Shields (5-5, 3.76). Boston wrapped up a three-game interleague set at Houston on Sunday with a 3-2 loss. The Sox have split their last eight games, and they’re just 17-35 in their last 52 games on an artificial surface. However but they have won nine of their last 13 against winning teams.

Tampa Bay, which continues to surprise by continuing to win, held on for a 4-3 victory at Pittsburgh on Sunday to improve to 5-1 in its last six games and 9-3 in the last 12. The Rays are also on hot streaks of 13-3 in series openers and 39-19 at Tropicana Field dating to last season, including 26-6 in the last 32 at home. They are also a stunning 14-3 in their last 17 games against teams with a winning percentage above .600.

These two Eastern Division rivals have already hooked up for three series this year, and Boston has swept the last six games, all at Fenway, after Tampa swept a three-game home series in April. The Red Sox are a dominant 98-43 in the last 141 clashes between these teams, but they have lost four straight at Tampa.

The Red Sox have won in five of Masterson’s seven starts in his debut season, including the last two. In Tuesday’s 5-4 home victory against Arizona, Masterson got a no-decision after allowing four runs on seven hits in six innings. The 23-year-old has gone at least six innings in six of his seven outings.

Shields finally nabbed a win in his last outing, allowing one run on four hits in seven innings as the Rays routed host Florida 15-3 Wednesday. It was Shields’ first victory since May 9, a stretch that included three losses and four no-decisions. However, Tampa went on to win those four contests and is 11-1 in Shields’ last 12 home starts and 6-1 when Shields starts a series opener.

Masterson is 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in two road starts this season, and he has yet to face Tampa in his career. Shields is 3-1 in eight home starts with a solid 1.99 ERA, but he’s 1-2 against Boston this season. On April 27, he threw a two-hit, complete-game shutout in a 2-0 home victory, but he got roughed up for seven runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings in a 12-4 road loss May 3 and lasted only an inning at Boston on June 5, allowing four runs on three hits before getting ejected in an eventual 7-1 loss.

The Rays are 1-6 in Shields’ seven career starts against Boston, with the righthander posting a 5.66 ERA.

The under is 5-1-1 in Boston’s last seven games, 21-8-3 on Monday for the Sox and 7-3-2 in Boston’s last 12 against winning teams. The under is also 22-8-1 in Tampa’s last 31 home starts, and in this rivalry, the under has cashed the last four meetings at Tropicana Field.

ATS ADVANTAGE: TAMPA BAY and UNDER


Oakland (44-37) at L.A. Angels (49-33)

Right-hander Jon Garland (7-4, 4.05) will toe the slab for American League West-leading Angels when they open a three-game home series against the division rival Athletics and left-hander Greg Smith (4-6, 3.69). After getting shutout on back-to-back nights at Dodger Stadium – including losing a 1-0 decision on Saturday despite not giving up a single hit in the game – the Angels turned the tables and blanked their regional rival 1-0 on Sunday behind another strong outing from ace John Lackey.

The Halos, who halted a three-game losing skid with Sunday’s win, return home where they are 22-8 after a road trip lasting seven or more days. They’re also on streaks of 8-2 at home against left-handed starters and 16-5 overall versus southpaws.

Oakland completed a three-game interleague home set against San Francisco on Sunday by getting clobbered 11-1, this after losing 1-0 on Saturday night. The back-to-back losses for the A’s come on the heels of a 9-4 run. The A’s have won their last five series openers and are 5-2 in their last seven roadies, but they are just 9-19 in their last 28 games inside the division.

These teams have hooked up for two series so far this year, with L.A. holding a 4-3 edge after taking two of three at home and two of four on the road. Last year, the A’s held a narrow 10-9 edge in the season series.

Garland is 4-1 over his last 10 starts, with the Angels going 2-3 in his five no-decisions. On Tuesday at Washington, he allowed three runs on six hits in seven innings en route to an 8-3 victory. Los Angeles is 6-2 in Garland’s last eight starts against winning teams.

Smith is just 2-6 with three no-decisions in his last 11 starts, but the A’s have given him little run support in the losses, getting shut out three times and scoring three or less runs in Smith’s other three setbacks. On Wednesday against Philadelphia, he allowed four runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings as Oakland got blanked 4-0 at home. The A’s are 2-6 in his last eight starts against winning teams.

Garland is 2-3 with a 4.88 ERA in nine home outings this year, and he’s 1-1 in two starts against Oakland this season. On April 28 at home, he got lit up for seven runs on 10 hits in six innings as L.A. lost 14-2, but on June 7 at Oakland, he gave up just two runs on five hits in seven innings in a 5-3 victory.

Meanwhile, Smith is 2-3 with a 4.05 ERA in eight road starts this season, including a solid effort against the Angels on April 29 that still resulted in a loss. In that game, he yielded just two runs on three hits in eight innings but got no offensive support in a 2-0 defeat, giving him an 0-2 mark with a 3.77 ERA in two career starts versus Los Angeles.

The A’s saw a 5-0 under streak end in Sunday’s loss to San Francisco. Still, the under is 8-2 in the team’s last 10 series openers and 9-1-1 in Smith’s last 11 starts. Also, for Los Angeles, the under streaks include 7-2 overall (3-0 last three), 14-5-2 at home, 7-1-2 overall with Garland starting and 5-0-1 when Garland works at home. Finally, the under is 39-17-3 in the last 59 clashes in this rivalry and 28-10 in the last 38 meetings at Angel Stadium.

ATS ADVANTAGE: L.A. ANGELS and UNDER

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Mets activate OF Church from DL, put Nixon on DL

NEW YORK (AP) -Outfielder Ryan Church returned from the disabled list Sunday and was put right into the New York Mets' starting lineup against the New York Yankees.

Church had not played since June 6 because of the effects of his second concussion this year. He was activated from the disabled list and recently acquired outfielder Trot Nixon went on the 15-day DL with a strained groin.

Church batted sixth and played right field against the Yankees. Over the last month, he had been slowed by dizziness, had trouble with bright light and felt uncomfortable on team flights.

Obtained from the Washington Nationals in an offseason trade, Church had been among the Mets' most consistent players before his latest injury. He was hitting .300 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs going into the wrapup of the Subway Series.

Church was initially hurt in a spring training collision with teammate Marlon Anderson. Then on May 20 at Atlanta, he was accidentally kneed in the head by Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar while trying to break up a game-ending double play.

Church pinch-hit on May 22, but did not start again until June 1. Still not feeling 100 percent, he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on June 6 at San Diego.

After that game, the Mets put him on the DL with post-concussion syndrome.

Church played two rehab games last week with Class A Brooklyn, going 3-for-6 overall.

The Mets acquired Nixon on June 13 in a trade with Arizona to help with their depleted outfield. He hit .171 with one home run in 35 at_bats with New York.

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Tigers' Ordonez on 15-day DL with pulled oblique

DETROIT (AP) -The Detroit Tigers placed right fielder Magglio Ordonez on the 15-day disabled list with a pulled muscle in his right side on Sunday.

Ordonez pulled his oblique muscle in the third inning of a 7-6 win over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night.

Ordonez is hitting .307 with 12 home runs and 50 RBI. He hit .363 last season to win the American League batting title.

To replace Ordonez on the roster, Detroit recalled the contract of outfielder Matt Joyce from Triple-A Toledo.

It will be Joyce's second stint with the Tigers this season. He hit .208 with five home runs and 10 RBI in 18 games in his first stay in Detroit. Joyce has 13 home runs and 41 RBI and is hitting .270 at Toledo.

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Finger injury sends Cuddyer to DL, Span on way up

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -Minnesota Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday, the start of his second stint on the shelf this season to let a lingering finger injury heal.

This time, Cuddyer has a strained tendon in his left index finger that's causing enough pain to prevent him from properly gripping the bat or fully bending the digit. He has played through the soreness for more than two weeks but was unable to Saturday or Sunday. Cuddyer said he took a swing that sent him ``over the edge'' in Friday's game.

``He's pretty frustrated, to tell you the truth,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Outfielder Denard Span, who joined the Twins in April when Cuddyer cut and dislocated the index finger on his right hand during a headfirst slide, will be recalled from Triple-A Rochester in time to play Monday against Detroit.

Cuddyer, after signing a three-year, $24 million contract this winter, has slumped this season to a .252 average with only three homers in 234 at_bats. He has hit well this month, though, and his powerful throwing arm is always a threat to opposing runners.

Clearly, another injury to Cuddyer was not the way Gardenhire wanted to get Span back in the majors.

``He's a leader out there, you know? He's one of the guys that we count on every day,'' Gardenhire said. ``But as with anybody else, we just have to play. We have to pick each other up when these things happen.''

Span, the team's first-round draft selection in 2002 who was beaten out for the job in center field this spring by Carlos Gomez, is batting .342 with 32 runs, three homers, 14 RBIs and 15 steals with a .436 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot for Rochester. He missed more than a month with a broken finger.

``As I told him when we sent him down, my goal was to try to figure out a way to get him up here and keep him up here and be able to use him properly,'' Gardenhire said. ``I don't want him to sit on the bench.''

At the 81-game mark, the Twins were right in the AL Central race - 1 1/2 games behind Chicago entering Sunday - but not the way they envisioned. Injuries up and down the roster and disappointing production by a few offseason acquisitions have forced several players into unexpectedly important roles. Span will be the latest example.

``I think it's been trial and error all the way up to this point,'' Gardenhire said.

The skipper sidestepped a question about whether he planned to play Span every day during Cuddyer's absence or continue to mix in usual designated hitter Jason Kubel in right field.

``I just plan to try to keep winning,'' Gardenhire said.

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Baseball Today

SCOREBOARD

Cleveland at Chicago White Sox (8:10 p.m.). Cliff Lee (11-1, 2.34 ERA), tied for the AL lead in wins and second in the AL in ERA, matches up with John Danks (5-4, 2.62 ERA) who has the AL's third-lowest ERA.

STARS

Sunday

- John Lackey, Angels, held the Dodgers to three hits for 8 2-3 innings in a 1-0 win.

- Kevin Slowey, Twins, breezed through his fourth straight dominant start, beating Ben Sheets and the Brewers with a three-hitter in a 5-0 win over Milwaukee.

- Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners, went 5-for-5 and Seattle beat Jake Peavy and the punchless Padres 9-2 for a three-game sweep.

- Oliver Perez, Mets, limited the Yankees to one run and three hits in seven sharp innings, striking out eight without a walk in a 3-1 win over the Yankees.

- Jason LaRue, Cardinals, drove in four runs with a home run and a triple in St. Louis' 9-6 win over his former team, the Royals.

- Ronnie Belliard, Nationals, hit a two-run homer in the 12th inning to give Washington a 3-2 win over the Orioles.

- Rich Aurilia, Giants, homered and matched his career high with five RBIs to help San Francisco beat Oakland 11-1 and get its first series win in the Bay Area rivalry in two years.

NO HITTERS

A day after Jered Weaver and Jose Arredondo did not allow a hit in a 1-0 loss to the Dodgers, the Angels allowed hits - three of them - but no runs in a 1-0 win. That's three hits and one unearned run in two games for the offensively challenged Dodgers, who are hitting just .234 for the month. The Dodgers have scored 83 runs in June, tied with the Nationals for the fewest in the majors.

SLUGGER

White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome hit his 522nd career homer in a 5-1 victory over the Cubs, moving him past Ted Williams and Willie McCovey into sole possession of 16th place all-time.

MUCH BETTER


The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3 to complete a remarkable first-half turnaround. The Rays are 49-32, the most victories midway through a season by a team that had the majors' worst record the season before, according to Stats, Inc. The only team with a better half-season winning percentage than the Rays' .605 after having the worst overall record the previous season was the 1903 New York Giants, who were 45-25 (.643). The 2001 Cubs were 48-33 at midseason after going 65-97 the year before.

MUCH WORSE

The Colorado Rockies lost their seventh straight game, 4-3 to the Detroit Tigers. After their 81st game on Saturday, they were 32-49, giving them the fewest wins at the halfway point for a team a year after making the World Series since the Florida Marlins in 1998, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That Marlins team was dismantled a year after winning the World Series, and went 28-53 in their first 81 games.

OVER .500

The Tigers won their fifth straight game and 15th in their past 18, 4-3 over Colorado. Detroit has a winning record for the first time this season.

RETURN

Edwin Encarnacion, back in the Reds' lineup after missing five games with back spasms, hit a two-run homer in a 9-5 win over Cleveland. ... Mets RF Ryan Church was activated from the disabled list and went 2-for-4 in his first game since June 6, a 3-1 win over the Yankees. He'd been slowed by the effects of his second concussion this year.

BRING ON THE YANKS

Mets starter Oliver Perez (6-5) limited the Yankees to one run and three hits in seven sharp innings of a 3-1 win. He retired the first 10 batters and wound up striking out eight without a walk. Perez improved to 5-1 with a 2.61 ERA in six career starts against the Yankees, including a win last month at Yankee Stadium.

STAT

Of Washington's 18 home wins, eight have come in the final at-bat, including a 3-2 win in the bottom of the 12th inning Sunday.

AILING

The Twins placed right fielder Michael Cuddyer on the 15-day disabled list, hoping his second stint on the shelf this season will let a lingering finger injury heal. ... The Tigers placed right fielder Magglio Ordonez on the 15-day disabled list with a pulled muscle in his right side. Ordonez pulled his oblique muscle in the third inning of a 7-6 win over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night. ... Royals outfielder David DeJesus was removed from the game against St. Louis after a collision at the plate with catcher Jason LaRue. ... Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla was out of the lineup against the Diamondbacks, a day after he sprained his left ankle and had to leave the game. He said he should be able to play in a few days.

WELCOME BACK

The Brewers activated right-hander Eric Gagne from the 15-day disabled list after the game at Minnesota, but manager Ned Yost wasn't ready to formally assign the former closer a role upon his return. "Reliever,'' was all Yost said. With Salomon Torres 12-for-12 in save opportunities since taking over the ninth inning duty, though, Gagne is likely headed for a setup spot after missing more than a month because of rotator cuff tendinitis.

NEMESIS

Mark Loretta had a pinch-hit, RBI single in the eighth inning off Hideki Okajima to lift the Astros to a 3-2 win over the Red Sox. He also hit a three-run homer on Saturday in the Astros' 11-10 win. An All-Star second baseman for Boston in 2006, Loretta, who signed with Houston as a free agent in January 2007, is a career .337 hitter against Boston.

SPEAKING

"I'm not going to sit here and say I expected us to be at this particular place in the standings. It's been an anonymous first half ... there's no one guy having a killer season, which makes it more appealing to me that we're at this juncture, knowing somebody's going to turn into a beast in the second half.'' - Rays manager Joe Maddon after the team improved to 49-32, the most victories midway through a season by a team that had the majors' worst record the season before, according to Stats, Inc.

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Re: MLB News and Notes June 30

Monday's best MLB bets
Covers.com

Kansas City at Baltimore -105, 9

There are a lot of people who have been waiting a long time for Zack Greinke to take the next step as one of the game's elite starting pitchers. Now it seems like he's on the right track, at least.

The 24-year-old missed almost all of the 2006 season with a social anxiety disorder and has had to deal with a lot of losses early in his career playing in Kansas City, but this year he's starting to show the potential that made him the No. 6 overall pick in 2002.

Now, everything's coming together for him as he has allowed just four earned runs over his last three starts. His fastball tops out as high as 98 on the gun and he also has a slider, curveball, and a changeup to keep batters off balance.

Pick: Kansas City


San Diego at Colorado -120, 9½


It's been a weird season for Jorge De La Rosa. He started out the year still with the Royals before they designated him for assignment after a tough spring and eventually dealt him to the Rockies.

Since landing in Colorado, De La Rosa is finally showing that he really does have some of the nastiest stuff in the majors when he's on even though his still sits at 6.23 heading into today's game. If it weren't for two terrible starts and a bad appearance out of the bullpen, his numbers would be a lot better and it looks like he's throwing with a lot more confidence over the last couple of weeks, posting 22 strikeouts over his last three starts.

San Diego sends out the ageless Greg Maddux today to go up against De La Rosa. Maddux has just three wins on the year, but with a 3.52 ERA, that says more about San Diego's offensive problems than anything else.

Pick: Under

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Re: MLB News and Notes June 30

Diamond Preview
By Matt Fargo

Monday, June 30th

Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays 7:10 PM ET


Interleague play is done and we can turn our attention to some big league games this week starting with a great series getting underway Monday. Boston heads to Tampa Bay as the two meet for the first time since June 5th and that infamous brawl. James Shields started that game and was tossed after just one inning and he will get a crack at the Red Sox once again. He shut them out at home earlier this season on just two hits and the home team is now 9-0 in the nine meetings played thus far this season.

Tuesday, July 1st

Oakland A’s at Los Angeles Angels 10:05 PM ET


Another great A.L. series continues Tuesday as the A’s look to keep pace out west with the Angels. They enter the week four and a half games back and send one of the hottest pitchers in baseball to the hill in this one. Rich Harden has tossed seven quality starts in his last eight games and it would be 8-8 but he was a third of an inning short in one of those. Harden has yet to lose this season. Not to be outdone, Ervin Santana is 9-3 with a 3.32 ERA on the year and he is 8-1 with a 1.38 ERA in 11 career starts against Oakland.

Wednesday, July 2nd

Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins 1:10 PM ET


The three-game set between the Tigers and Twins concludes on Wednesday afternoon. This is a big series for the visitors as Detroit has somehow gotten itself back into the American League Central race. Entering the week, the Tigers are on a five-game winning streak and are 17-4 over their last 21 games. The Twins are hot as well as they have won 10 of their last 11 games heading into this series. Minnesota has won five of the last six meetings including a sweep at the Metrodome back in early May.

Thursday, July 3rd

Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees 7:05 PM ET


It really wouldn’t be 4th of July without the Red Sox and Yankees squaring off. Game One of this four-game series is Thursday and with the Yankees starting to show some life, this series is going to be a big one. Andy Pettitte takes the hill for New York and he is 15-6 with a 3.45 ERA in 27 career starts against Boston. Meanwhile Jon Lester counters for the Red Sox and he has faced the Yankees only once. Last season, he was shelled for seven runs in just 3.2 innings.

Friday, July 4th

Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals 8:15 PM ET


The holiday is filled with action day and night and one of the best matchups takes place Friday night with the Cubs taking on the Cardinals in the first game of this weekend series. St. Louis is the closest pursuer in the National League Central as it came into the new week trailing Chicago by just 2.5 games. This is just the second series between these two rivals as the Cardinals took two of three in the first set back in early May. Chicago has been nearly unbeatable at home but is struggling on the road with six straight losses.

VegasInsider.com

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Re: MLB News and Notes June 30

Monday MLB Research
By Indiancowboy

I firmly beleive in focusing on specific research and this includes all specific conferences in college football as well as just 1 league in baseball unless there is a short card. The only exception being in the nfl and the nba where the entire card is to be researched.

Kansas city vs. Baltimore

Greinke has actually pitched 3 straight quality starts on the road at Arizona and St. Louis and at home against Colorado and has helped his team win the last 2. Heck, Kansas City already has 35 wins this year which is a far cry from years' past. He faces a Baltimore team he has not faced this year and the pitcher for the Orioles has yet to be decided in this ballgame. Both teams come off losses in low scoring ballgames in their last start, it is important to see who starts for the Orioles, but I do lean on the Royals a bit here with Greinke, of course, taking road chalk in any sport is not encouraged.

Rangers vs. Yankees

An early line gives -180 for Chamberlin and that might go up further. Feldman has an interesting stat line:

7.5 ERA and 7.5 ERA in road starts against Cleveland and Minny, then he came back home and had 2 decent starts against Oakland and Tampa Bay, went on the road to get drilled by the Mets and then came back home to pitch great against Houston and Atlanta. Now, he goes back on the road again where he is 0-3 with 6.92 ERA whereas at home he is 1-3 with a 4.34 ERA. Of course, he has helped his ballclub win the last 2 games with quality home starts. Chamberlain on the other hand has picked up his first win on the year and sits with a 2.92 ERA on the year at home and a 1.8 ERA overall. Feldman has been so horrible on the road, but he is facing the Yankees which means he very well could finally buck up here for a quality start against Chamberlain as this could end up being a pitcher's duel or Joba is due to get shelled and Texas might just be the team to do it as this could be high scoring with a total set at 10 which is indicative of that. Likely staying away here, no thanks.

Boston vs. Tampa Bay

Well, you are well aware that these 2 teams do not like each other whatsoever, especially after the latest brawl between Crisp and Shields. Materson is 4-1 this year, has a 3.86 ERA on the road, comes off a 6 ERA performance at Arizona but the Red Sox did manage to win that game 5-4 eventually, the last time he did that at Tampa Bay he had a 6 ERA at home only to come back in his next start with a 1.50 ERA start against Seattle. Shields of course has some intersting numbers, overall on the year he is 5-5 with a 3.76 ERA, but at home he is 3-1 with a 1.99 ERA - remember, the last time he faced Boston he got shelled 1-7 so this is a revenge game for Shields in many respects and of course, Tampa Bay would love to get back at this team for that loss and the brawl. It's just a shame that there is just much juice on Shields but I think he is still worth the price here.

Detroit vs. Minny

Don't look now but the Tigers are actually a game above .500, hell, the Yankees have only 3 more wins than the Tigers and we have to reach the all-star break so that just goes to show that there is so much baseball that is yet to be played, I like Galaraga a good deal and he comes off a rough start in his last go with overa 7 ERA despite the Tigers winning that game 8-7, on the road the kid is 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA but he has faced Minnesotta twice this year and has lost both times, in fact, Galaraga is 7-2 on the year but both losses come to the Twins Perkins easily defeated the Tigers last time out 7-1 by giving up 7 hits in over 7 innings and defeating Verlander. I do think the kid's luck has run out a bit and I think the Tigers get the better end of the Twins despite being a road game as I don't see Galaraga getting beat up by the Twins for the 3rd straight time this year.

Cleveland vs. Whitesox

Despite losing his last 2 starts, Sowers ERA has gotten better in those 2 starts, but man, he is giving up countless hits - just the last 2 starts alone he has given up 19 hits in 13 innings, not to mention Cleveland can't hit worth a lick which doesn't help their cause any either, Floyd had a rough start in his last start as he had a 6.75 ERA against the Dodgers and a 6 ERA against the Indians last time out but did win 6-5 over Westbrook, I think Floyd has a bounce-back here and I think the whitesox get it at done at home, possibly by a run-line here, after all, each time Floyd has had a rough start, he has come back strong, 5.69 ERA start against the Rockies only to come back to have a 1.59 ERA against Pittsburgh in his next start and he had a 6 ERA on the road against Cleveland only to come back home and have a 2.57 ERA against Kansas City.

Toronto vs. Seattle

Halladay is a big road chalk in this ballgame, but keep in mind he had a 6 ERA start in his last start so he is on the bounce-back here today, after getting roughed up at home against Cincy, he very rarely has a back to back rough starts and does have a 2.85 ERA on the road, ****ey didn't yield a run to the Mets on the road in 7 innings in his last start and although I don't like the Bluejays offense, I think ****ey gets roughed up here as he doesn't have back to back quality starts in him. But, I hate doing a run-line on the road especially on such road chalk - after all, the Bluejays do have their problems scoring runs at times.

Oakland vs. Angels

I love this Oakland team, they sit at 46 wins, 8 games above .500 and they have hard working blue chip players that just bust their tail as management has taken a page out of the Marlins handbook and reduced costs while producing a quality team with winners. Greg Smith has an odd way of giving 2 straight quality starts and then gets roughed up and that is what happend last time as after he had 1.8 ERA performances against Arizona and San Fran on the road, he got roughed up at home against Philly as he had over a 6 ERA in that start. Garland defeated Smith 5-3 last time around and is 1-1 against Oakland this year, I just don't know if Garland has 3 straight quality starts in him as he has trouble all year putting together 3 straight quality starts in a row

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Chan's money arms: Week of June 30th
By DAVID CHAN

This column has produced a 10-3 record over the past three weeks, proving that a little homework can go a long way when it comes to building baseball bankrolls.

It’s the start of another busy week on the diamond and here are five starters that could earn you some extra loot over the next four days.

Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals, Monday at Baltimore

Greinke has been something of an enigma throughout his career, but I believe this is a good time to back him. In his last three starts, Greinke has worked 20 innings, and has given up only 14 hits and four earned runs. His command has definitely been there. In his last two starts he has struck out 17 while walking only one. That’s quite a turnaround considering he issued seven walks three starts ago. The Royals are coming off a weekend sweep at the hands of the suddenly surging Cardinals. That means they should bring the proper focus to the table on Monday.

Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners, Tuesday vs. Toronto

King Felix has done well to sustain a winning record despite pitching for a Mariners team that sits almost 20 games under .500. The M’s have actually won his last four starts, and he owns a personal 4-0 record over that stretch. In four career starts against the Blue Jays, Hernandez is 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA. For the first time in a long time, the Mariners should have some confidence entering this series. They swept the Padres in San Diego over the weekend, thanks in large part to their starting pitching. Felix keeps the momentum building on Tuesday.

Scott Baker, Minnesota Twins, Tuesday vs. Detroit

Would I be wrong in saying that Scott Baker is one of the most consistent starting pitchers in all of baseball? The guy gives his team six solid innings just about every time he takes the mound, and that’s certainly more than I can say about a lot of millionaire hurlers. He has won back-to-back starts to improve to 4-2 on the season. The Metrodome has been kind to the 26-year old, as he is 2-0 with a 2.28 ERA on this mound. The Tigers are playing much better these days, but Baker steals the show on Tuesday.

Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay Rays, Wednesday vs. Boston

Coming off four consecutive subpar outings, now is the time to buy low with Scott Kazmir. Who better to right the ship against than the Red Sox. In 18 career starts against the defending world champs, Kazmir has recorded a 2.82 ERA and held them to a paltry .224 batting average. He owns a 1.24 ERA at Tropicana Field this season, but was a 3-2 loser against Houston in his last start here. The Red Sox have excelled against left-handed pitching this year, but that should only serve to give us added value in this situation.

Garrett Olson, Baltimore Orioles, Thursday vs. Kansas City

Garrett Olson has experienced quite a few ups and downs in his first full big league season. I’m predicting a positive start form the left-hander on Thursday. This will be his second go-round against the Royals this season. He helped the O’s earn a 6-5 win in Kansas City in early May. Olson is 3-0 with a 3.49 ERA at Camden Yards in 2008. He’ll be trying to string together back-to-back solid starts after giving up just a single run in five innings in his last effort. The Orioles are 7-5 in his 12 starts this season. It helps our case that the hometown bats will have a chance to tee off on Kyle Davies.

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