LEAD OFF

There are three undefeated teams left in the Majors. The Reds defeated the Astros 8-2 to improve to 4-0 while the Rangers continued to roll with a 3-2 win over Seattle to move to a  5-0 mark. They join the 4-0 Orioles, who enjoyed an off day Tuesday. All three are in action on Wednesday. On the other side of the spectrum, there are three winless teams remaining: one that isn’t a shock (Astros) and two that are a surprise (Red Sox and Rays).

NOTABLE DEBUTS

Michael Pineda, Mariners: L, 6.0 IP, 5H, 3R, 3ER, 1BB, 4K (Not a bad start at all against the red-hot Rangers offense on the road).

QUESTION:

The 4-0 Reds are off to their best start since what year?

INSIDE THE BOXSCORE

Nelson Cruz‘s bid to become the only player in MLB history to homer in his first five games came up short Tuesday with an 0-for-2 performance with one walk. His four home runs in the Rangers first four games was a feat matched only by Willie Mays and Mark McGwire.

QUICK HITS

– The Mets will need more performances like this one if they hope to compete this year. Mets starter Chris Young did it all on Tuesday in his debut with his new team as he not only shut down the Phillies through 5.1 innings with one run allowed for a victory, but he helped his own cause with three hits and one RBI. Two of his three hits came in the third inning as the Mets exploded for a six-run inning. Giants starter Madison Bumgarner was the last pitcher to record two hits in an inning last September.

– The Red Sox lineup Tuesday including their starting pitcher will earn $87.4 million this year. While their opponent Indians starting lineup and pitcher will make just over $23 million. And the Red Sox are 0-4. Good thing it’s a long season.

ANSWER:

The Reds haven’t been on a start like this since 1990 when they started the season 9-0 and would eventually go on to sweep the A’s in the World Series. On the flip side, the Reds dropped the Astros to 0-4. It’s the worst start for the Astros since…2010.

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Don’t look now, but pitchers and catchers report next week! With the start of spring training right around the corner, I thought we’d take a look at some of the prominent free agents who will be changing uniforms this year…

Yankees
The Yankees are having a bit of a rough offseason. They lost out on ace Cliff Lee at the last minute to the Phillies, their longtime steady All-Star pitcher Andy Pettitte decided to retire and then they were raked over the coals by Derek Jeter to sign him to an extension. Meanwhile, the Red Sox went out and brought in a ton of talent mainly Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks to name a few.

So what did the Yanks do to compensate? Well besides locking up Rivera and Rafael Soriano for their bullpen, they went out and signed Andruw Jones, Bartolo Colon, Mark Prior and now Eric Chavez. These pickups would have been great if the year was 2004 and not 2011. Three of these deals are minor league deals, but wow could they be anymore desperate for starting pitching. If one of the following, Colon-Prior-Chavez, stick I would be shocked.

Rays sign some idiots
The Rays reunited outfielders Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez from their days in Boston, signing them both two one-year deals. Both players are winding down their careers and are not the same players they once were, but it will be interesting to see how their veteran presence will be on a young team that lost Crawford, Garza and Soriano in the offseason. They don’t have the power they used to process as Manny hit nine total compared to Damon’s eight last year. If one of the two can rebound from a mediocre 2010, it’ll pay dividends for Tampa.

Rangers give six years to Beltre
Texas used the money saved for Cliff Lee to pickup Adrian Beltre in a six-year, $96M deal. Didn’t the Rangers learn their lesson on the A-Rod deal that strapped them for years down the road. Beltre had a sterling season last year (.321/.365/.553), there’s no doubt about that. But it was a big improvement from 2009 when he struggled with the Mariners. Plus, Beltre will be 32 in early April, and I’m not so sure giving a 32-year-old with Beltre’s track record a six-year deal is a great idea. Besides the Rangers need pitching, not hitting at this point.

Dunn to White Sox
Adam Dunn signed with the Chi Sox for a four-year, $56MM deal. Dunn’s a player that has hit an average of 40.3 home runs each year since 2004. Now, he moves to an extreme home run hitter’s park in Chicago at the age of 31, Dunn may absolutely rake in the lineup that features Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin.

Quick hits:

Vlad and Lee sign with the Orioles: Minus the postseason, Vladimir Guerrero had a terrific 2010 season with the Rangers, hitting .300/.345/.496 with 29 home runs. His decline in the postseason is a worry for the O’s, but I think Vlad will at least be productive this year though not to 2010’s standards. As for Derrek Lee, he will be looking for a bounce back year in new scenery in Baltimore after seeing his home run total drop from 35 in 2009 to 19 in 2010, including just three dingers after being dealt to Atlanta in August.

Matsui lands in Oakland: Hideki Matsui ended up being one of the most consistent producers for the Angels last year and should provide some much-needed power and experience for the A’s in 2011. If he stays healthy, 20-25 home runs shouldn’t be a problem.

Cubs land Pena: Along with upgrading their rotation with a trade for Garza, the Cubs signed Pena to a one-year, $10MM deal. Pena will provide some power the Cubs need, but I don’t care how many home runs he hits, he better cut down some strikeouts and improve that .198 average.

Javier Vazquez returns to the NL: Vazquez is coming off probably his worst season in the majors since his rookie year. He posted a 5.32 ERA while his strikeouts decreased and his walks went up with the Yanks. Signing a one-year, $7MM deal with Florida, he hopes to turn some magic back in the NL where he’s been extremely more effective throughout his 13-year career.

World Series Game 5: Giants 3, Rangers 1  (Giants win WS 4-games-1)
Thanks to another stellar pitching performance by ace Tim Lincecum, the San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers 3-1 to win the series 4-games-to-1 for their first championship since arriving in the Bay Area. The Giants ace defeated Rangers ace Cliff Lee for the second time in the series and left no doubts about how much pitching dominated these playoffs.

It’s only fitting that in a year dubbed the “Year of the Pitcher” that the playoffs and, more importantly, the world series would be dominated by pitching.

In a game that was more of what people expected from the Game 1 Lee-Lincecum matchup, Lincecum fired 8.0 innings with just one run allowed on three hits while fanning 10. Lee matched Lincecum until the seventh inning when Edgar Renteria, who is developing a flair for the dramatic, ripped a three-run homer off Lee to give the Giants all the runs they would need to win it all. Cody Ross and Juan Uribe led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Aubrey Huff laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over, and Lee then struck out Pat Burrell for two outs bringing Renteria to the plate. Renteria had the walk-off game-winning hit for the Marlins in the ’97 World Series and made the final out of the 2004 World Series for the Cardinals. This time he delivered again with a three-run blast into the Texas night to deep center field. It was all the Giants needed.

Nelson Cruz hit a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh, his sixth of the postseason, but that was all the Rangers would get off of Lincecum. Closer Brian Wilson came in for the ninth and shut down the Rangers middle of the order, striking out Josh Hamilton, getting Vlad to ground out and clinching the World Series for the Giants by striking out Cruz to end it.

Renteria was named series MVP thanks to a .412/.444/.765 slash line with two home runs, including the series-winning home run. You can definitely make a strong argument that Lincecum deserved the MVP award, but it really doesn’t matter because the Giants are champs and that’s all that matters to them and their fans.

World Series Game 4: Giants 4, Rangers 0
Giants rookie pitcher Madison Bumgarner threw a brilliant performance to blank the Rangers 4-0 in Game 4 to move the Giants to one game from their first championship since moving to San Francisco.

If the Rangers were to show any momentum from winning Game 3 in front of their home fans, Bumgarner put a stop to that early. The rookie southpaw fired 8.0 shutout innings, limiting Texas to just three hits, two walks while striking out six batters. Closer Brian Wilson finished the job with a perfect ninth inning to give the Giants a 3-games-to-1 lead. Mitch Moreland, Nelson Cruz and Michael Young were the only ones to record a hit for Texas, all three hits being lousy singles.

The Giants, on the other hand, churned out eight hits including two long balls. Aubrey Huff opened the scoring with a two-run blast in the top of the third inning. Torres doubled in Renteria in the seventh inning for one of his three hits on the night, and rookie phenom Buster Posey hit his first home run of the World Series with a solo shot to center in the eighth inning. San Francisco chased Rangers starter Tommy Hunter from the game after just 4.0 innings, five hits and two runs.

The Giants will attempt to capture their first championship since 1954 tonight with Tim Lincecum taking the mound in Game 5 against Texas ace Cliff Lee in a rematch of Game 1. Here’s hoping for a better pitching duel than what we saw in Game 1, which saw a total of 18 runs when it was all said and done.

 

World Series Game 3: Rangers 4, Giants 2
Texas returned home down two games and found the big hit they lacked for the first part of the series in San Francisco. Mitch Moreland, an unlikely choice for a game 3 hero, belted a three-run homer off Jonathan Sanchez in the bottom of the second inning to give the Rangers all the runs they would need to win their first game of the series.

Josh Hamilton also added a solo shot as the Rangers defeated the Giants 4-2. Colby Lewis continued a stellar postseason run with 7.2 innings of effective work with just two runs allowed on five hits for the win. Neftali Feliz pitched a scoreless ninth inning with two strikeouts to record the save.

The Giants two runs were scored on solo blasts by Cody Ross and Andres Torres, but that was all they could muster off Lewis and company. For the second consecutive start Sanchez struggled on the big stage as he failed to go at least five innings again and gave up four runs through 4.2 innings.

The Rangers and Giants meet for Game 4 tonight in Arlington with Madison Bumgarner starting for the Giants against Rangers righty Tommy Hunter.

World Series Game 2: Giants 9, Rangers 0
Panic time in Texas? Matt Cain dominated the Rangers on route to a 9-0 victory in Game 2 to give the Giants a 2-0 lead in the World Series.

Cain continued his magnificent performance in the postseason with 7.2 shutout innings on four hits, two walks and four strikeouts. Everything that was expected of Lincecum this postseason has pretty much come in the form of Cain. The Giants starter has not allowed an earned run in three starts this postseason.

The Giants lineup, which may be the weakest lineup star-wise to start a WS in years, scrapped their way to another big game with nine runs. Edgar Renteria, who hit three home runs in the regular season, opened the scoring in the fifth inning with a solo home run to left field. With the score 2-0 and the Giants already chasing Texas starter CJ Wilson from the game, their offense broke out for seven runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Renteria finished with three RBI and Aaron Rowand drove in two on a triple in San Francisco’s big inning.

Wilson matched Cain step for step until Renteria’s home run as he finished 6.0 innings of work and two runs allowed for the loss. The Rangers came on and gave up the seven runs to turn the game into a blowout.

The Rangers head back to Texas for Game 3 in what is pretty much a must-win game for them at this point. Colby Lewis, who was brilliant in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Yankees, will go for Texas against Jonathan Sanchez who only lasted two innings in his last start of the NLCS.

World Series Game 1: Giants 11, Rangers 7
If you would have told me prior to Game 1 that the Rangers would score seven runs and lose with Cliff Lee on the mound, I would have committed you. In your insanity, if you would have also told me that a game where Lee faced Tim Lincecum would end up with 18 total runs, I may have given up on you altogether. Yet, that’s exactly the way the script went for Game 1 of the World Series Wednesday night. So much for that once-in-a-lifetime pitching duel. That’s why they play the game I guess.

The Giants ripped Lee all around the ballpark on route to an 11-7 victory at AT&T Park to take a 1-0 lead in the series. Lee lasted just 4.1 innings with seven runs allowed (six earned) on eight hits, one walk, one HBP and seven strikeouts. Hey, he did have a double off Lincecum though in the second inning. It was his first ever loss in what was a remarkable postseason career up until last night. It wasn’t all his fault as the defense behind him fell apart as well as Texas recorded four errors in the game. Lee ran into major trouble in the fifth after Torres doubled with out. Freddy Sanchez ripped an RBI double, Posey struck and Burrell walked. Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff followed with back-to-back RBI singles to chase Lee from the outing. Juan Uribe welcome Rangers reliever Darren O’Day with a three-run blast deep into the San Francisco night for the big hit the Giants were looking for. It was Uribe’s second crucial home run in as many games as he hit the eventual game-winning homer in Game 6 of the NLCS in Philadelphia.

Sanchez didn’t have a bad game himself. He only doubled in his first three WS at-bats and finished with four hits and three RBI. Not bad for a former Bucco! (sorry, I had to add the Pirates plug in there). Three extra-base hits with no home runs in a WS game? It’s only happened a handful of times before.

The Giants actually trailed the game 2-0 early and got out of a jam after a horrendous brain fart by Lincecum. The Giants starter had Michael Young in a run down with one out in the first inning and decided to run him back to third base instead of flipping to third for the out. Lincecum had to of thought the other runner had moved up to third, so the lead runner would be out, but that was not the case. Inexplicable decision by Lincecum, but he got out of it against the next batter, enticing Ian Kinsler to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Even with an 8-2 lead, Lincecum wasn’t great either as he only made it 5.2 innings allowing four runs on eight hits, two walks with three strikeouts. The difference here was a big W in the win column.

For Texas, Vlad Guerrero and Nelson Cruz each had a hit and two RBI while Bengie Molina and Mitch Moreland each recorded two hits.

The Rangers will try to bounce back tonight with CJ Wilson taking the hill against Giants starter Matt Cain in Game 2. All Cain has done so far this postseason is allowed zero earned runs in 13.2 innings.

As for a random non-game thought from last night, I’m all for being patriotic, but can we lose “God Bless America” for the 7th inning stretch and go back to the old-fashioned “Take Me Out to the Ballgame?” The National Anthem is sung before every game, I don’t think we need another national TV performance of an American song. Let the Giants fans, who were having a good time at that point, sing and go crazy for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”