Good afternoon ...
* The NL Central seems to be getting stronger. Especially with the starting rotations. The Milwaukee Brewers made a stunning trade for ace starting pitcher Zack Greinke. And now the Cubs have made their move, acquiring starter Matt Garza from Tampa Bay. Garza is a workhorse who has averaged just under 200 IP per season over the last three years. He pitched well in baseball's toughest division, the AL East, over the last three seasons, posting a three-year 3.86 ERA that ranks 11th among AL starters since the start of the 2008 season. And Garza is 12th in Ks over the last three years. And 10th in OPS allowed. Garza makes the Cubs' rotation better, possibky much better. Carlos Zambrano finished strong last season, and the Cubs will go into 2011 with six starters for five spots: Zambrano, Garza, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Silva, Randy Wells and Tom Gorzelanny. That's good. The Cubs had a starting-pitching ERA of 4.00 in 20010, which ranked third in the NL Central. And Garza, moving away from the brutally tough AL East, should help improve the Cubs.
* Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds' decision to sign Edgar Renteria is certainly interesting. If the Reds plan on making Renteria their regular shortstop, their infield defense may suffer. Renteria, 35, is one of my favorite players. I will always respect him for the way he went about his business with the Cardinals. But his range has declined.
According to the John Dewan plus-minus fielding ratings, Renteria was a minus 9 shortstop in 2008, minus 10 in 2009 and minus 2 in 2010. The minus rating would have been worse in 2010 but Renteria played in only 72 games because of injuries. Renteria was money in the postseason for the Giants -- the World Series MVP -- but it's always risky to get overly excited by a hot streak in the postseason. Renteria's OPS of .680 over the past three seasons (combined) ranks 19th among MLB shortstops. Now: if the Reds plan to use Renteria as a role player and spot starter or someone that will share the shortstop position with Paul Janish, then this would make sense. Janish doesn't hit much but he's better defensively than Renteria.
But I'm not knocking the Reds. Especially considering that the Cardinals are sitting here in the early days of 2011 with questionable infield depth. I'm just wondering if the Reds are expecting too much from Renteria.
* No doubt that Mizzou quarterback Blaine Gabbert will benefit from Andrew Luck's decision to stay at Stanford for his senior year. NFL Draft experts already are moving Gabbert up to the top of the QB rankings. On Mel Kiper's Big Board at ESPN.com, Gabbert is ranked 8th among all potential draftees, and No. 1 among QBs.
* Speaking of quarterbacks that declared for the 2011 draft: does anyone else see a little Ryan Leaf in Arkansas QB Ryan Mallet? I don't know what it is about the kid ... but something just tells me NFL scouts will be inspecting Mallet closely for signs of the Knucklehead Factor.
* I'm sorry to learn that the Rams have fired their longtime equipment manager Todd Hewitt. There doesn't seem to be any justification for this. I also know that 99 percent of the team's fans don't care about who is in charge of the equipment. But the Hewitt family had a strong, proud and loyal tradition of serving the franchise. Todd had been with the Rams for more than 40 years. His father, the late and beloved Don Hewitt, was the team's equipment manager from 1967 through 1994. I don't understand why such a good man and a loyal employee has to be treated so shabbily. Since the Rams apparently have such high standards about the way jock straps are being cleaned, will they put the same high standards in place when it comes to, say, evaluating the coaching performance that devised such an incoherent, inadequate and underachieving running game in 2010? Will any coaches be fired or demoted for the 16-6 choke job in Seattle? Or was that Hewitt's fault? Just wondering.
* Playoff picks for the weekend, and please don't take my advice: New Orleans over Seattle; NY Jets over Indianapolis; Baltimore over Kansas City; Philadelphia over Green Bay.
* Not that anyone gives a flip, but since we talk about something about sports here on occasion -- especially music -- here are my favorite albums of 2010. My list doesn't present the best variety, and it is very mellow in flavor. This past year I got on a strong surf-sound, surf-music, lo-fi kick, and it was a time to enjoy that style of music, given the number of bands that came ashore.
-- Beach House, "Teen Dream."
-- Deerhunter, "Halycon Digest."
-- Best Coast, "Crazy for You."
-- Wild Nothing, "Gemini."
-- Broken Bells, "Broken Bells."
-- Local Natives, "Gorilla Manor."
-- Male Bonding, "Nothing Hurts."
-- Reading Rainbow, "Prism Eyes."
-- Surfer Blood, "Astro Coast."
-- The Fresh & Onlys, "Play it Strange."
-- Big Boi, "Sir Lucious Left Foot ... the Son of Chico Dusty."
-- Mumford & Sons, "Sigh No More."
-- Real Estate, "Real Estate."
-- Arcade Fire, "The Suburbs."
-- School of Seven Bells, "Disconnect From Desire."
-- Wavves, "King of the Beach."
-- LCD Soundsystem, "This Is Happening."
-- Sleigh Bells, "Treats."
As always thanks for reading...and have a good weekend.