What we're watching – June 1

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– After homering in four of the Padres’ six games on the road last
week, Adrian Gonzalez returns home to Petco to take on Joe Blanton and
the Phillies. Gonzalez is hitting a relatively modest .259 with five
homers in 85 at-bats in San Diego this year. He’s at .313 with 15
homers in 96 at-bats on the road.

– Hiroki Kuroda wasn’t any good in his rehab start last week, giving
up seven runs — five earned — and nine hits over five innings for
Single-A Inland Empire, but the Dodgers have still chosen to bring him
back to face the Diamondbacks tonight. He was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in
four starts against Arizona as a rookie last year. The Dodgers will
have the advantage of facing Billy Buckner, who allowed five runs in a
loss to the Padres last time out. Buckner pitched in relief against the
Dodgers on April 11 and allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning.
He was demoted to the minors soon afterwards, only to be brought back
as a starter on May 22.

– With trade speculation ramping up, Roy Oswalt will take on the
Rockies tonight. He’s 6-1 with a 1.84 lifetime against Colorado, but
the Roy Oswalt who put up those numbers hasn’t shown up very frequently
this season. Coming off three straight no-decisions, Oswalt enters his
12th start of the season with a 1-2 record and a 4.62 ERA. Fellow
Opening Day starter Aaron Cook will pitch for Colorado.

– Derek Jeter enters Monday’s game against the Indians with a chance
of reaching two milestones: he’s two runs scored away from 1,500 and
two hits away from 2,600.

Game of the Night

Cincinnati vs. St. Louis – There are currently 38 starters with at
least five wins this season, but only one is pitching tonight. That’s
the Cardinals’ Todd Wellemeyer, who has a 5.02 ERA to go along with his
5-4 record. He has, though, allowed two runs in 11 1/3 innings over his
last two starts, both of which resulted in victories. The Reds will go
to Edinson Volquez, who is fresh off the DL after missing two starts
with back spasms. Volquez, who gave up seven runs in a start against
the Cardinals on May 10, is 4-2 with a 4.25 ERA this season.

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.