What we're watching: Halladay takes on the Yankees

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– It’s the fourth of the month, which of course means that Roy Halladay is facing the Bombers. He’ll be attempting to halt the Yankees’ seven-game winning streak. He’s come up short in his last two starts against New York, giving up five runs in seven innings to take a no-decision in the Jays’ loss on July 4 and five runs in a complete-game defeat on Aug. 4. The opposition tonight will be Joba Chamberlain, for a couple of innings anyway. Chamberlain has pitched six, five, four and three innings over the course of his last four starts. It’s part of the Yankees’ new plan to guarantee that he’ll be healthy and terribly inconsistent in the postseason.
– Adam Wainwright can and should become the year’s first 17-game winner when he faces the Pirates tonight. Including a win over Pittsburgh on Aug. 8, he’s gone 4-0 over his last five starts. The Pirates have lost seven straight to the struggling Brewers and the abysmal Reds, and they now own the game’s third-worst record ahead of only the Nationals and Royals.
– Freddy Garcia, who was roughed up by the Royals in the first start of his latest comeback, has turned in consecutive quality starts against the Red Sox and Yankees. He’ll get another test tonight when he tries his assortment of breaking balls against a Red Sox team that faced him just 10 days ago. Garcia is back throwing in the high-80s consistently now, but he’s relying more on his slider and changeup than his fastball. If he can handle Boston’s lineup again while using the same assortment, it’d be an encouraging development as he prepares to reenter free agency.
Game of the Night
Detroit vs. Tampa Bay – Unless one wants to pretend the White Sox still have a chance, then this is the only series this weekend involving two contenders. Of course, even that’s debatable, given that the Rays fell six games back of the Red Sox in the wild card after losing to Boston on Thursday. Tampa Bay will send Rookie of the Year contender Jeff Niemann to the mound in the series opener against Tigers ace Justin Verlander. It’ll be a rematch of an Aug. 30 game that the Tigers won 4-3, even though Niemann (2 R in 7 IP) turned in the slightly better performance than Verlander (3 R in 8 IP). The Rays may have the edge this time, given that the game will be played in St. Pete. They’re 43-23 at home this year, while the Tigers are 27-39 on the road.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.

Michael Brantley’s timetable off shoulder surgery is “hazy”

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Paul Hoynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at how the Indians will manage their outfield during the early part of the 2016 season, in the absence of star Michael Brantley.

Brantley underwent labrum surgery on his right shoulder this past November and has not picked up a bat all winter. “In the off-season people know I love to hit,” Brantley acknowledged to Hoynes late last week. ”I hit a lot. It’s just been a change in my timetable.”

Hoynes says the projected date for Brantley’s 2016 debut is “hazy,” guessing that it might happen around late April or early May if everything continues to go smoothly. Shoulders can be tricky, for hitters and pitchers.

Rajai Davis, Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall figure to make up Cleveland’s primary starting outfield while Brantley is finishing his rehabilitation. Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler could also be in the mix. It’s a lacking group, tasked with replacing one of the most productive players in baseball.

Brantley, 28, has slashed .319/.382/.494 over the last two seasons, tallying 35 home runs, 90 doubles, 181 RBI, and 38 stolen bases in 293 games.

Could the talented Tribe be in for another slow start?

Shouldn’t this club be spending more money?

Jose Bautista had a courtside view of Saturday night’s epic NBA Slam Dunk Contest

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Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Aaron Gordon of the Orlando Magic put on a tremendous show in Saturday night’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest up in Toronto, Canada. The stars were out to see it at the Air Canada Centre, and Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista had one of the very best views in the house. Check out this video he posted to Instagram of LaVine’s final dunk, a between-the-legs jam from just inside the free throw line …

Its a wrap!!! #BackToBack #SlamDunk #Champion @zachlavine8 🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽

A video posted by Jose Bautista (@joeybats19) on

That is Toronto’s very own Drake going wild in the pink jacket. Gordon probably had the best individual dunk of the night, though, if we’re being really real …

Back to your regularly scheduled baseball programming. Pitchers and catchers report Friday.