Twins edge Royals, Greinke to stay in AL Central race

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The only way one could tell it wasn’t a postseason game was that the Royals were involved.
With a full Metrodome rocking it its final days, the Twins beat the Royals 5-4 on Saturday to keep the pressure on the Tigers as they play the White Sox tonight.
This was the game the Twins faced long odds to win. Zack Greinke had given up three runs — two earned — in his last six starts, the last being a win over Minnesota last weekend. Nick Blackburn was also pitching well, but as a result of Monday’s rainout, he had to pitch on three days’ rest for the first time in his career today.
Blackburn, though, excelled, and the teams matched zeroes until the sixth. Nick Punto led off the bottom of the inning with a walk, advanced to second on a sac bunt and then to third on a groundout. That brought up future AL MVP Joe Mauer in a situation that begged for an intentional walk. Greinke, though, wasn’t having any of it. Mauer got down in the count 0-2, held on and then lined a single to right.
That figured to be the end of it, but Jason Kubel followed with a ground-rule double that ticked off the glove of a sprinting Willie Bloomquist in left field. After a HBP loaded the bases, Delmon Young delivered a three-run double over the head of an awkward Mark Teahen in right field, making it a 4-0 game. It was the first time all year that Greinke had given up more than three runs in an inning.
So, now the Twins could cruise to a win against a punchless Kansas City offense? No, wrong again. Mike Jacobs had a solo homer in the seventh, and Miguel Olivo started the eighth with a double that got Blackburn pulled. Manager Ron Gardenhire smartly brought in lefty Jose Mijares to face Alex Gordon. Mijares had limited left-handed hitters to a .139 average and two homers in 101 at-bats. Gordon was hitting .146 with two homers in 48 at-bats against left-handed pitching.
Gordon, of course, launched a ball over the baggie in right, making it 4-3. The Royals tied it up in the same inning on a double-play ball.
The decisive blow was supplied by Michael Cuddyer in the bottom of the eighth. The Royals let lefty Dusty Hughes face him, even though he’s hit .303 with 14 homers in 165 at-bats against southpaws, and Cuddyer stung a liner to the opposite first for his 31st homer of the year. Joe Nathan went on to pitch a perfect ninth, with some help from Denard Span in right field, for his 47th save.
The Twins are now just a half-game back of the Tigers in the Central race. Rather than bring Justin Verlander back on three days’ rest, Detroit will start rookie Alfredo Figaro tonight against Freddy Garcia and the White Sox.

A Mexican team wins the Caribbean Series for the third time in four years

Mexican players celebrate their victory in the Caribbean Series baseball final against Aragua Tigres of Venezuela, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. Designated hitter Jorge Vazquez hit a game-winning home run leading off the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday, lifting Mexico's Venados de Mazatlan to a 5-4 come-from-behind victory and the championship of the Caribbean Series. (AP Photo/Roberto Guzman)
Associated Press
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For those who aren’t familiar, Serie del Caribe, or the Caribbean Series, is the highest club level baseball tournament in Latin America, pitting the champions of the winter leagues in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela against one another in a bacchanalia of baseball that, if there was justice in the world, we’d all be watching instead of football.

This year’s installment ended last night with Mexico’s Mazatlan Venados beating Venezuela’s Aragua Tigres 5-4 in the final game at Estadio Quisqueya in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Jorge Vazquez — who Yankees fans may remember from a few years back — provided the winning margin when he hit a home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning.

This is the third Serie del Caribe title for a Mexican club in the past four years, with Naranjeros de Hermosillo winning in 2014 and Yaquis de Obregón winning in 2013. Pinar del Río from Cuba won it last winter. This is the first time the Venados have won it.

As we noted yesterday, this was longtime MLB starter Freddy Garcia‘s last game. He gave up four hits and allowed two earned runs over five and a third innings for the Tigres, getting a no-decision.

Report: Teams reluctant to gamble on Cliff Lee

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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In Saturday’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo suggests that free agent Cliff Lee is seeking a guaranteed major league deal between $6 and $8 million plus incentives. That is turning some otherwise interested teams away, as the lefty is still recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee hasn’t pitched since July 31, 2014.

Last month, Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker said the pitcher would need “a perfect fit” to pitch in 2016. He also noted that Lee has begun a full offseason throwing program.

In his most recent season, Lee compiled a 3.65 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 12 walks in 81 1/3 innings for the Phillies. The Phillies had signed him to a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010 but declined a club option for the 2016 season, instead buying him out for $12.5 million.

Orioles reconsidering signing Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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In an article for MASN on Friday, Steve Melewski noted that the Orioles were reluctant to forfeit their first round draft pick (14th overall) in order to sign free agent starter Yovani Gallardo. The club is now reconsidering its stance and rechecking the right-handers medicals, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports.

Gallardo, who turns 30 on February 27, posted a 3.42 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 68 walks over 184 1/3 innings for the Rangers last season. The Rangers had acquired him in a trade with the Brewers, sending Luis Sardinas, Corey Knebel, and minor leaguer Marcos Diplan to Milwaukee.

Gallardo has posted an ERA below 4.00 in six of his last seven seasons. He remains unsigned into February, however, because his strikeout rate has rapidly decreased with each year since 2012. Per FanGraphs, that rate was 23.7 percent in 2012, then went to 18.6 percent, 17.9 percent, and 15.3 percent progressively. Some of that may have to do with diminishing fastball velocity, as Gallardo’s 90.4 MPH average marked a career low among his eight full seasons with at least 100 innings pitched.

The Orioles lost starter Wei-Yin Chen, who signed with the Marlins, and the back end of their rotation is highly speculative with Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Tyler Wilson. Adding a veteran like Gallardo, even if he is apparently declining, may be stabilizing.

Freddy Garcia is calling it a career

Screenshot 2016-02-07 at 10.16.43 AM
Elsa/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez passes along word from the Dominican Republic that right-hander Freddy Garcia will hang up his cleats for good after Sunday’s Caribbean Series championship game.

Garcia will start that game for the Tigres de Aragua out of Venezuela. He’s taking on Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlan.

“Venezuelan fans are expecting something good from Freddy and so is everybody,” said Tigres de Aragua manager Eddie Perez, who also serves as the bullpen coach for the Atlanta Braves. “Knowing that it’s his last game is going to make it very special. We all hope he pitches a really good game so he can retire in a good way and bring the title for Venezuela. Everybody who is rooting for Venezuela expects him to do well.”

Garcia’s last major league game was in the 2013 postseason. The 39-year-0ld will finish with a 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 6.4 K/9 in 2,264 career regular-season innings. He had a 3.26 ERA in 11 playoff starts, winning a World Series title with the White Sox in 2005.