You can blame Cox for Atlanta's shortcomings

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

Bobby Cox, like Joe Torre, routinely is criticized for overworking relievers. He did it again this season, even though the stellar performances of Braves right-hander Peter Moylan and lefty Mike Gonzalez since the All-Star break indicate otherwise.

Around the Horn

Manufacturing runs remains a concern for the Phillies. Jimmy Rollins, the team's leadoff man, has a .268 on-base percentage since Aug. 13 and .289 mark for the season. Shane Victorino, the most frequent No. 2 hitter, has a .250 OPB since Aug. 25. The Phillies' offense stagnates when Rollins and Victorino fail to get on base. Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth rank second and fourth in the NL in strikeouts, respectively. Raul Ibanez also has struck out more than 100 times.
  • Rarely does a middle-inning reliever command attention, but Angels third baseman Chone Figgins says left-hander Darren Oliver is the team's MVP. Oliver, who turns 39 on Oct. 6, has filled virtually every bullpen role but closer. He has even made a start, his first since Aug. 5, 2004 with the Astros. His 2.73 ERA is the lowest of his 16-year career, and his mentoring of the Angels' young relievers has made him even more invaluable. Angels GM Tony Reagins, referring to Oliver's leadership and experience, says, "Those are things you can't pay for."
  • Dodgers GM Ned Colletti not only has developed a knack for making deals while assuming little salary before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, but also has proven handy around the Aug. 31 deadline for setting postseason rosters. In 2006, Colletti obtained infielder Marlon Anderson, who hit seven home runs for the Dodgers that September. Ron Belliard, batting .273 with two homers since arriving from the Nationals, looks like this year's version of Anderson.
  • Asked about the possibility of re-signing shortstop Marco Scutaro, a potential free agent, Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi says, "I think we have a chance." Ricciardi declined to elaborate, but Scutaro turns 34 on Oct. 30, and the demand for older players has diminished in recent markets. The Jays plan to offer salary arbitration to Scutaro, who currently projects as a Type A free agent. They would receive two high draft picks if they lost him, then search for his replacement on the free-agent and trade markets.
  • The Rays have talked with outfielder Fernando Perez about abandoning switch-hitting and going back to batting right-handed, which he did exclusively until 2006. Perez, 26, has resisted the idea, believing he can master the skill of hitting from both sides. He impressed Rays officials by explaining his grasp of the pros and cons of the debate — not surprising, considering that he attended Columbia. Playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic will help Perez recoup some of the at-bats he lost due to his wrist surgery — and perhaps help him improve his switch-hitting, too.

    — Ken Rosenthal, FOXSports.com

  • Perhaps the better question is: Did Cox push too hard with his team's two best sluggers, catcher Brian McCann and third baseman Chipper Jones? The evidence suggests yes. The Braves' chances of reaching the postseason all but ended when they went 1-6 between Sept. 2 and 9. McCann was 1-for-25 during that stretch, Jones 2-for-20 with two walks. Both also faltered in August, but Jones played in all but three of the Braves' 28 games that month, McCann all but four. The team surged back into contention by going 16-9 between Aug. 4 and Sept. 1, then crashed. The Braves' rotation ERA — second-best in the National League — is a terrible thing to waste. Then again, perhaps nothing could have changed the outcome of the Braves' season. The team simply was not good enough offensively. This will be the fourth straight season that the Braves have missed the playoffs after qualifying in 14 straight. General manager Frank Wren did excellent work upgrading the rotation and trading for center fielder Nate McLouth. Yet, as Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus recently pointed out, the Braves sure could have used Adam Dunn instead of Garret Anderson. Well, no GM bats 1.000. No manager does, either. But Jones, 37, could end up playing his most games since 2003 while producing career-low numbers. McCann, 25, spent time on the disabled list with an infected left eye, but has started 108 of the 130 games for which he was active. It's not as if Cox lacked quality alternatives for both players — he had Omar Infante and Martin Prado for Jones, David Ross for Martin. It's just that, like most managers, he sticks with the players he trusts most — and the relievers he trusts most, too. Moylan, who started the season just 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery, leads the NL with 79 appearances. Gonzalez, who underwent the surgery in May 2007, ranks third with 73. A third Braves reliever, Rafael Soriano, is tied for 11th with 67 appearances after missing the final two months of last season with elbow inflammation. If the Braves had remained in contention, playing tight games every night, their bullpen likely would have collapsed. Wren, due to expiring contracts, will need to find fresh arms regardless. Gonzalez and Soriano, both free agents, could be too pricey for the Braves — and too much a risk. Moylan, who is eligible for arbitration for the first time, likely will return. Cox, 68, likely will manage the Braves as long as he desires, and there is no indication that he is ready to step down. He remains a terrific manager on many levels — players love him and play hard for him. The question, if only this once, is whether he got the most out of them.

    Padres' 2010 payroll: At least $40 million

    Over the weekend, I mentioned in my "Full Count" video that some in baseball suspect that the Padres will trade first baseman Adrian Gonzalez or closer Heath Bell and reduce their 2010 payroll to the $25 million range. Not true, according to one source with knowledge of the team's plans. While ownership has yet to give the front office a final budget, it is planning a payroll of at least $40 million for next season, the source says. That's good news for the Padres, whose 2010 obligations, including arbitration-eligible players, currently project to be in the low $30 million range. General manager Kevin Towers says the team can be a surprise contender next season, the '10 version of the Giants. The Padres' rotation will not be nearly as strong as the Giants', but their bullpen could be as good and their offense and defense better. A payroll of at least $40 million would allow the team to sign at least one free-agent starting pitcher to complement Chris Young, Mat Latos, Clayton Richard and possibly Kevin Correia. The Padres have won six straight series, five against teams that were or are in contention. They prevailed over the Rockies and Nationals at home, the Giants, Dodgers, Marlins and Braves on the road. Entering Monday's play, the team's 27-17 record since July 28 was the fifth best in the majors. "There's certainly light at the end of the tunnel," Towers says.

    The Rays: One more chance?

    The Rays' 11-game losing streak, which ended with an 8-4 victory over the Orioles on Monday night, will not fundamentally change the way the team assesses its future. In the Rays' view, their players remain talented, their window of opportunity remains open at least through next season and their chances of trading left fielder Carl Crawford or center fielder B.J. Upton remain quite slim. Crawford is under team control for one more season; the Rays can take one more shot with him and then recoup two high draft picks when he departs as a free agent. Another low-revenue team, the A's, employed a similar strategy earlier in the decade with players such as Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon. Upton, under team control for three more seasons, represents a more difficult call. His upside remains tremendous, but his makeup is a concern. The Rays still think he cares enough to become a great player. Teams such as the Angels and Royals would love to find out. The Rays could replace Upton with Fernando Perez, who missed virtually all of this season after undergoing surgery on his left wrist, or Desmond Jennings, who had an .888 OPS while spending about three-fourths of his season at Class AA and the rest at AAA. Another option for the Rays would be to trade Perez or Jennings to fill another need.

    Dodgers' Billingsley fading fast

    The Dodgers considered but decided against skipping the next turn of right-hander Chad Billingsley, who is 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA in his last four starts. Billingsley's delivery is an issue, and some team officials question his makeup, too. Young players do not always progress in linear fashion. Billingsley has gone backward, as has catcher Russell Martin offensively, while center fielder Matt Kemp and right fielder Andre Ethier have taken a step forward. Thus, Billingsley and Martin are starting to face the same questions that Upton faces with the Rays: Are they willing to work like Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez? Do they want it badly enough? If Billingsley makes a mechanical adjustment, the other concerns about him might diminish. When he lands on his heel, he spins his toe toward first base while finishing his delivery. He needs to square up more toward home plate to get better finish on his pitches, one team official says.

    Hey Charlie, easy on Pedro

    Pedro Martinez's 130-pitch outing against the Mets on Sunday night raised at least two questions:
  • Why didn't other teams see more promise in Martinez, who is 5-0 with a 2.87 ERA for the Phillies?
  • What the heck was manager Charlie Manuel thinking when he allowed Martinez to throw his most pitches in a start since May 1, 2001? Martinez turns 38 on Oct. 25. He is coming off three straight injury-marred seasons. And the Phillies might need him in their postseason rotation if lefty J.A. Happ does not recover sufficiently from an oblique injury. Yet Manuel treated Martinez as if he were some workhorse from the 1960s, stretching him to 119 pitches in his previous start before going to 130 with him on Sunday. As the following chart shows, Martinez's two-game total of 249 pitches is the second-highest by a pitcher in back-to-back starts this season, according to STATS LLC:
    Count it out
    Pitcher Number of pitches Dates
    Justin Verlander 251 8-30/9-4
    Pedro Martinez 249 9-18/9-13
    Tim Lincecum 248 8-23/8-28
    Gil Meche 247 6-10/6-16
    Roy Oswalt 245 6-13/6-19

    Scioscia's award-worthy effort

    In any other season, the debate over AL Manager of the Year would be a spirited discussion involving the Rangers' Ron Washington, Tigers' Jim Leyland and even the Yankees' Joe Girardi. But this season, it's difficult to imagine anyone but the Angels' Mike Scioscia winning the award. The death of right-hander Nick Adenhart in April rocked the organization, but Scioscia showed not just strong leadership, but also the appropriate respect to the Adenhart family. The Angels have dealt with numerous injuries and used 14 starting pitchers, but the loss of Adenhart haunts them each day. I asked Scioscia over the weekend if this has been his most trying season. I knew it was a foolish question the moment the words left my mouth; Adenhart was gone forever. Regardless, Scioscia gave an eloquent answer: "There's nothing that prepares you for that, nothing that prepares a family for that. We're playing with heavy hearts. "Watching the Adenhart family, the mom and dad, the extended family, trying to get through this tragedy, it's tough. Every day, there's always something that pops into your mind. You see his locker, a highlight will come up. It brings you back to that night."

    Which way Jays?

    The Blue Jays have not said whether Paul Beeston will remain CEO beyond this season, whether general manager J.P. Ricciardi will return for the final year on his contract, whether their payroll in 2010 will rise or fall. The Jays are but a small part of the Rogers Communications empire in Canada, and their ownership is among the least involved in the game. But before team officials can start to plan for next season, they will need direction. The next CEO, according to one source with knowledge of the Jays' situation, is likely to be more business-oriented than baseball-oriented, someone with Canadian ties. That person presumably would decide the future of Ricciardi, who is widely believed to be in trouble. Rogers originally indicated it would to raise the '09 payroll from $97.8 million to $110 million, but cut back to $80 million due to economic concerns. The Jays since have purged the salaries of right fielder Alex Rios and third baseman Scott Rolen, but still have $68.5 million committed to seven players next season. Some good things happened for the Jays this season — second baseman Aaron Hill and left fielder/DH Adam Lind developed into stars, left-hander Ricky Romero and several other young pitchers showed promise, outfielder Travis Snider and catcher J.P. Arencibia continued their developments into potential cornerstones. Looking back, the Jays' 27-14 start was an illusion — the team played only three games against the Yankees during that stretch and none against the Red Sox. But the Jays had three straight winning seasons before this one and offer at least some hope for the future. But first, ownership must decide the next step.
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