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The stage is set: Cardinals to face Rangers in World Series

One team has unfinished business to settle.

The other has destiny on it’s side.

On Wednesday, those two teams will meet in the 2011 Fall Classic. The St. Louis Cardinals, who capped off a miraculous September run to steal the Wild Card from the Atlanta Braves. They will host the Texas Rangers, who are playing in their second straight World Series.

St. Louis is the first Wild Card team since the 2006 Detroit Tigers to have home field advantage in the World Series. The 2004 Boston Red Sox are the last Wild Card team to host the World Series and win it. The latter knows a little bit about miracles, especially when the comeback against the New York Yankees in the ALCS and the end of an 86-year curse were complete with a sweeping of the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series.

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Rangers move on to ALCS

Texas' Adrian Beltre hits one of his three homers in Game 4. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

The Texas Rangers finished off the Tampa Bay Rays earlier today.

After getting blown out in Game 1 in their home park, the Rangers took the next three games to win their series, advancing to the ALDS while waiting for the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers to finish their series. The Tigers currently hold a 2-1 series lead with Game 4 tonight at 8:37.

Today’s Game 4 win was a thriller. Adrian Beltre, acquired this off season as a free agent, continued his tear from the regular season. The third baseman slugged three homers, his third providing the most important run when Tampa Bay cut the lead in half in the 9th inning.

The Rays, trailing 4-2 going into their final three outs, got a run back with one out when Casey Kotchman drove in Nelson Cruz. But the Rangers closer Neftali Feliz got the next two outs rather easily and the Rangers moved on.

Series Preview: vs Texas Rangers

PHI: 26-17, 1st in NL East; TEX: 23-21, 1st in AL West

When: May 20-22
Where: Citizens Bank Park (Philly, PA)

Probable Pitchers
Friday: Roy Halladay (5-3, 2.21) vs C.J. Wilson (4-2, 3.38)
Saturday: Cliff Lee (2-4, 3.84) vs Colby Lewis (4-4, 3.81)
Sunday: Roy Oswalt (3-1, 3.09) vs Matt Harrison (4-3, 4.37)

Broadcast Info
Friday, 7:05, PHL 17
Saturday, 7:10, FOX
Sunday, 1:35, PHL 17
All Games on 1210 AM Read more of this post

Offseason Winners and Losers

Winners

Texas Rangers - Despite losing Cliff Lee, the Rangers still had a very successful offseason. They made a big splash by inking Adrian Beltre to a six-year contract. Beltre brings substantial power – along with a good glove – to a lineup that already includes Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. The three sluggers should combine to hit over 75 home runs in a very weak American League West division. They also added former Angels catcher Mike Napoli in a trade. Naploi is one of the better catchers in the game and is quite an offensive threat as well. He’s a guy that can hit 25-plus home runs. Napoli along with Hamilton, Cruz, and Beltre gives the Rangers a very powerful offense that should run away with the division crown.

They also bolstered their pitching in a few areas. They added veteran lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes to a one year contract. Rhodes spent 2010 with the Cincinnati Reds going 4-4 with a 2.29 ERA in 69 appearances. He was an All-Star last season and is joining an already talented bullpen that includes closer Neftali Feliz, Darren Oliver, and Darren O’Day. All three pitcher had sub-3.00 ERAs last season and Rhodes just solidifies the Rangers’ bullpen even more. They also took a chance on often-injured starter Brandon Webb. Webb hasn’t really been the same since he won the Cy Young in 2006. He missed almost all of the past two seasons with a devastating right shoulder injury. Webb could turn out to a bargain if he can stay healthy. In his career, Webb boasts an 87-62 record with a 3.29 ERA in eight seasons with the Diamondbacks. He has a great sinker that allows him to be very successful. There is little risk for adding Webb to the Rangers’ staff and if he stays healthy and performs, he could make Rangers fans forget all about Cliff Lee.

Philadelphia Phillies - It’s been made perfectly clear in the past that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is not afraid to make a big splash. This offseason was no different. The Phillies landed Philadelphia’s favorite son Cliff Lee in a deal that no one in baseball saw coming. Lee signed with the Phillies for less money than he would’ve made in New York or Texas. Lee now gives the Phillies four aces in their starting rotation. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Lee could make up the greatest starting rotation of all time. Each has the potential to win 20 games this season and should help the Phillies run away with the National League East division.

The Phillies also resigned relievers Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero. The bullpen should be fairly strong this season but it will all hinge on the success of closer Brad Lidge. Lidge was rocky in parts of the 2010 season and has been far from perfect since his magical season in 2008. He recorded a 1-1 record with 2.96 ERA and notched 27 saves. There were moments when Lidge looked like his 2008 self and there were others when he looked like a lost cause. One that specifically comes to mind is a walk-off three run home run by Ryan Zimmerman to beat the Phillies on the road. If Lidge can shut the door in the ninth inning, the Phillies’ bullpen should be very good in 2011.

Boston Red Sox -The Red Sox arguably had the best offseason in baseball. They added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to their lineup and could be the team to beat in the American League this season. I believe this is the year that the Red Sox win the American League East and can give the Yankees some trouble. Gonzalez should thrive at Fenway Park and could use the Green Monster to his advantage. He hit 33 doubles last season and that number should be significantly higher playing in Boston this year. Hitting in a lineup with Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, Gonzalez gives Boston one of the better power-hitting teams in the majors. Crawford brings significant speed to the lineup as well. He can get on base and swipe bases and really sets the table for the power-hitting portion of the Red Sox lineup. I think both players are well worth adding for Boston and should have them in the driver’s seat in their division.

Losers

New York Yankees – Before the offseason even began, most baseball experts thought it was a foregone conclusion that Cliff Lee would sign with the Yankees. Unfortunately for the Yankees, not everybody can be bought. Lee left millions of dollars on the table and signed with the Phillies. This left the Yankees with no Plan B. Their number one priority this offseason was to sign Lee. When that failed, Zack Greinke was still available and could’ve been had in a trade. However, they passed up that chance and decided to stick with the rotation that they had in place. Even if Andy Pettitte resigns in the Bronx, this offseason was a complete and utter disaster for the Yankees. They were supposed to be the team that made the big splash in the division and put on a claim on the American League crown. However the Red Sox ended up going all out and adding a few All-Stars.

They did improve their already strong bullpen by adding Rafael Soriano – spending almost $12 million a season on a set-up man – and Pedro Feliciano. They were able to resign Derek Jeter which was tense for a few weeks. Russell Martin and Andruw Jones also will be making their way to New York this season. But the area of need was clearly starting pitching and it was simply not addressed. CC Sabathia is a great pitcher and will be a 20-game winner this year. But what do the Bronx Bombers have after their ace? AJ Burnett and Phil Hughes. That doesn’t exactly strike fear throughout baseball.

Washington Nationals – The Nationals made the shocking signing of the offseason when they inked Jayson Werth to a 7-year contract worth a total of $126 million. Werth left the Phillies for the money. That is the only way to look at it. The Nationals do have some nice pieces but it will be years before they can able to be relevant in the National League. Werth took this contract because it was likely the largest one he would see in free agency. It just makes little sense for the Nationals to throw all that money at Werth and they won’t even be competing anytime soon. They’re throwing $126 million at a guy who is over 30 years old already and has never even driven in 100 runs in a season. This move may have made more sense if they had held onto Adam Dunn. But Dunn signed with the White Sox and Washington replaced him with Adam LaRoche. The Nationals improved a little bit but they certainly didn’t need to throw that kind of money at a guy like Werth.

Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays subtracted a significant amount of talent during the offseason. They traded starter Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs for prospects. They lost relievers Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, and Grant Balfour to other teams via free agency. Their only significant signings were Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez who were both signed to one-year contracts. They can help the Rays somewhat and will help improve the lineup. But after losing all the pitching that they did, they didn’t do much of anything to make up for those losses. Garza was one of the starters that threw a no-hitter last season. He also was very strong during their World Series run in 2008. The bullpen is now very weak and their offense is getting worse. I just don’t see how the Rays can compete this season.

EDITORS NOTE (John Russo): I disagree with calling the Rays losers. Yes they lost some key players but they filled those holes with Damon and Ramirez who I think will be complete bargains. They have dominated the AL East their entire careers and coming back to that division and playing 81 games in a park they dominated plus 18 in Yankee and Fenway combined, expect Ramirez and Damon to keep the Rays in the pennant race. Their pitching is still strong and very young. David Price will have an unbelievable season in 2011.

With the Yankees being a weak team in my opinion, look for Tampa to be that gnat in the Red Sox ears this season.

Phils Snap Skid Heading Into NY

Boston 2B Dustin Pedroia leaps after forcing out Chase Utley. Both players are regarded as the best two-baggers in their respective leagues. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

The Phillies did not want to go into a tough Yankee Stadium any more down in the NL East than they already were. They prevented that by scoring early and holding on to win by a score of 5-3 in Boston to prevent the sweep and snapping the three-game skid.

Tim Wakefield gave the Phillies a lot of problems when he faced them three weeks ago in Philadelphia. But the knuckle-baller was bested, allowing four runs in 7.1 innings. After that bad inning, he settled down and pitched great for Boston. If it weren’t for those early runs, this game could’ve been trouble for the Phils.

Cole Hamels was fantastic in his outing, allowing a run on five hits and two walks in seven innins of work while striking out eight. The lone run he allowed came off a solo homer in the second inning by Adrian Beltre. Brad Lidge pitched 2/3 of an inning to get his fourth save of the season.

While trailing 1-0, the Phillies got four runs in a huge fourth inning where Raul Ibanez hit a two-run home run to snap the 1-1 tie. Ben Francisco then doubled and was driven in by Juan Castro to make it a 4-1 game. The Phillies added a run in the top of the ninth when Ben Francisco drove in Jayson Werth on a sacrifice fly. Boston scored two in the bottom half but Lidge stopped the bleeding to shut the door on the come back.

The Phillies will have the day off Monday before heading to the Bronx to face the Yankees in a three-game rematch of the World Series. I’ll be in attendance for Tuesday’s games with six more to invade Yankee Stadium and watch Roy Halladay take on C.C. Sabathia.

Doubles: Howard (11), Francisco (4), Polanco (13). HR: Ibanez (4).

WP: Hamels (6-5). LP: Wakefield (2-5). S: Lidge (4).

Boxscore.

Phils Endured A Hopeful Wake-Up Call

The Phillies were simply humiliated Friday night. Jamie Moyer got hammered and the offense went to sleep again as the Boston Red Sox made Philadelphia look pitiful in a 12-2 win.

Moyer got rocked for one-plus inning for nine runs on nine hits and a walk. He allowed six doubles and home run in the poor outing. He saw his ERA shoot up over one whole run. Kyle Kendrick pitched two innings of relief as he will be skipping a start against the New York Yankees next series.

Jayson Werth was the only bright spot offensively, going 3-for-4. David Ortiz with a few others had a field day. Big Papi went 3-for-5 with two doubles and four RBIs while Marco Scutaro, Victor Martinez, and Adrian Beltre had multi-hit efforts.

Doubles: Werth (24), Gload (1).

WP: Lackey (7-3). LP: Moyer (6-6).

Boxscore.

Dice-K Flirts With No-No

Boston pitcher Diasuke Matsuzaka lost his no-hit bid Saturday. Ron Cortes, Philly Inquirer.

The Phillies almost became a part of history Saturday night… on the losing side. Daisuke Matsuzaka lost a no-hitter bid in the eighth inning but the Red Sox went on to win 5-0 in Philadelphia.

Juan Castro roped a bloop single over the head of Marco Scutaro with two outs in the eighth inning to break up Matsuzaka’s no-no. Daniel Bard pitched a perfect ninth to finish off the Phillies, who were shut out for the second time this season.

Matsuzaka lasted eight innings, allowing a hit and four walks while striking out five. The Phillies were hitting the ball well, just right to the fielders for the Sox. Kyle Kendrick didn’t have a good inning as he only lasted 4 2/3 innings, surrendering all five runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out two. The bull pen pitched a scoreless 4 1/3 innings.

Adrian Beltre went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two RBIs. Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew also added two hits apiece.

WP: Matsuzaka (3-1). LP: Kendrick (2-2).

Boxscore.

5 Teams to Watch in the AL

Yankees – They’re the 2009 World Series champions and still kept intact the solid nucleus that got them there. They traded top prospects to land centerfielder Curtis Granderson, a much better defensive asset than Johnny Damon. They also traded Melky Cabrera to the Braves for Javier Vazquez to bolster the starting rotation. With guys like C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Brunett, and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees boast a very good pitching unit. Mariano Rivera is still the best closer in the game and the aging offense led by Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira can still put a ton of runs up on the score board. If things go right, they could have another parade down Broadway.

Red Sox – The pitching is truly phenomenal. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka form the best top-four in baseball. The offense is led by top young stars Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. Marco Scutaro is hoping to end the revolving door at the short stop position and Adrian Beltre is an offensive upgrade at third. Offensive depth is the only thing that should concern the Sox but they have the pitching to get the job done. David Ortiz is a shell of his old self but it still the DH.

Twins – It’s safe to say that Joe Mauer is the scariest hitter in the AL. The reigning MVP is one of the reasons Minnesota is buzzing prior to the 2010 season. Along with a new outdoor park and a very dangerous lineup featuring Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer, the fans and Twins have high expectations for this year. The only problem with them this year though is pitching. If their starters can have decent years, they could beat out Detroit for the division.

Mariners – Seattle is truly going to be a serious contender in the AL. The addition of Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, and Milton Bradley will revamp a pitching staff and offense in need of fire power. Lee became a hot pitcher again after his last season transformation with the Phillies and will look to create a formidable 1-2 punch with Felix Hernandez. Figgins will add speed and Bradley will look to add power to a Mariners lineup that hit 160 homer (12th in the AL) last season.

Angels – Surely they make their case for a serious playoff contender every year but there has to be a breaking point. They improved an already solid lineup with Hideki Matsui and bolstered their bull pen with Fernando Rodney but the team still doesn’t jump out at anyone. The core of the offense is aging in Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, and Matsui and they lost Figgins to the division rival Mariners. Jared Weaver, Joe Saunders, and newly acquired Joel Pineiro will need to have season like 2009 to give the Mariners a fighting chance in an AL crowded with contenders.

East: Yankees
Central: Twins
West: Mariners
Wild Card: Red Sox

Pennant: Yankees over Mariners

Polanco Top 3B Option

UPDATE: Phillies are expected to sign Polanco for a deal worth 3 years, $18 million according to Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated.

The Phillies have serious interest in bringing back Placido Polanco to play third base next year. Multiple sources told MLB.com on Wednesday that the Phillies have been very aggressive in their pursuit of Polanco, a free agent who played for Philadelphia from 2002-05.

If the Phillies were to sign him, they would have to cough up a first-round pick because he is a Type-A player, meaning that the orginazation he previously played for will get compinsated for his loss. The Phillies were also targeting Adrian Beltre and Mark DeRosa, two candidates I strongly wanted to see here too.

Last season, Polanco batted 285 with 10 home runs and 72 RBI’s with Detroit. He hit .341 in 2007 and .307 in ’08. His average has slightly dropped the past two years but with moving back to the hitter-friendly park in Philly, his power numbers could rise a bit. He could very well bat .300 with 15-20 homers and 75-80 RBI’s next year and he would be an instant upgrade. 

At this stage in his career, Polanco has no problem switching to third, something he didn’t want to do four years ago when Chase Utley turned into the star he is today. Polanco brings a great glove, winning two Gold Gloves in the last three seasons at second, and has chemistry with Ryan Howard, Utley, and Jimmy Rollins already. 

NOTE: In Todd Zolecki’s article, he said Polanco could bat second in the line up. This is tough because Shane Victorino produces his best in the spot but Polanco gets on base more than Victorino and Rollins.

Murphy Talks About Bench Options

The Phillies have a lot of work ahead of them this off season. With only 12 players locked on for next year, not including arbitration eligible players like Shane Victorino, Clay Condrey, and Joe Blanton, the Phillies will look to bolster their bench and bull pen. In his article yesterday, David Murphy of the Philadelphia Inquirer talked about a plethora of options the Phillies can look to for their bench next season.

Some stats he brought up that I didn’t realize were that during the post season, the bench was just 1-31, the only hit coming off of Matt Stairs RBI single in the World Series. Also Phillies pinch-hitters hit just .186, the second-worst average in the National League and struck out an NL-high 71 times. They did tie for the league lead in pinch-hit home runs.

As far as needs, I feel that third base should be their first priority. You can’t build a team bench-first. I am starting to warm up a bit to the Mark DeRosa idea but I am weary of it failing. I am also entertained with the idea of Adrien Beltre and Placido Polanco but Beltre’s defense and Polanco being a Type-A free agent is shying me away from them. Chone Figgins is a pipe dream.

Now back to the bench. The Phillies again need a back up catcher, a utility infielder that could hit and give Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley some days off. They also need a power bat off the bench. With Paul Bako, Miguel Cairo, Eric Bruntlett, and Stairs pretty much gone, that will leave the Phillies with a stellar out fielder in Ben Francisco and a healthier Greg Dobbs.

Here is a list of the targets Murphy talked about. A couple of those names appealed to me and some just didn’t work with me:

Fernando Tatis, Utility, NYM: I have to agree with Murphy on this one. He does have a good bat and is very versatile in the field, something the Phillies desperately want on their bench. Though he’s 35, he is still athletic enough to make a difference. I do disagree with one thing Murphy said: If they Phillies sign DeRosa, they could platoon Tatis with him and even spell Utley/Rollins with either player. To me, he and DeRosa will both needed to be signed for it to work.

Jerry Hairston Jr., Utility, NYY: Pass. He’s not that great defensively and will be a huge step down if he gives Rollins/Utley a rest. His bat doesn’t impress me either. He’s basically a less-talented Tatis.

Omar Vizquel, SS, TEX: Pass. He’s old, only plays short stop, and his bat isn’t special either. Though he is considered one of the greatest fielding SS’s of all time, he will mainly be brought in as a defensive minded guy.

Henry Blanco, C, SD: Pass because I like the other back-up option, Greg Zaun. His defense is solid (so was Bako’s) and his bat is an upgrade for the bench.

Greg Zaun, C, TB: This is what I who like to see as the Phillies back up. He is strong behind the plate and he’s a switch hitter. His On-Base Percentage the past six years has been at least .340. With Carlos Ruiz only playing 100 games last year and looking to play more this year, Zaun would be an excellent choice to keep Chooch’s legs fresh down the stretch.

In the end, I want to see the Phillies get Tatis (only if they sign DeRosa) and also Zaun. I’d like to see them pursue a power bat off the bench but the choices out there are very slim.

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