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Baseball's top position battle

Eddie Altamonte

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Looking at baseball's top position battles

Dayn Perry / Special to FOXSports.com

Posted: 3 days ago


With Cactus and Grapefruit League play now under way, it's time for your weekly look at the top 10 Position Battles in baseball.



1. Red Sox closer

The Contenders: Joel Pineiro, Mike Timlin, Craig Hansen

The Favorite: Timlin

Pineiro was the favorite coming in, but he's struggled badly this spring (15.43 ERA after two outings), which has opened the door for Timlin and Hansen. On the other hand, Timlin and Hansen are both sidelined with minor injuries at the moment. Still, if Pineiro continues to struggle, then expect the Sox to go with the known quantity and open the season with Timlin as closer. He probably won't stick in the role long-term, but he'll be a reliable stopgap.


2. Cardinals fourth/fifth starters


The Contenders:

Adam Wainwright, Braden Looper, Ryan Franklin, Brad Thompson

The Favorite(s): Wainwright and Franklin

Actually, in this one, much depends upon the health of closer Jason Isringhausen. If Isringhausen's surgically repaired hip is well enough by Opening Day, then Wainwright is most definitely in the rotation. If, however, Isringhausen can't answer the bell, then Wainwright will likely return to the bullpen until he's healthy. As for the fifth spot, Franklin and Looper both pitched well in their spring debuts, but Franklin may have the edge because he has more experience as a starter. Also entering the scene is the dark-horse Thompson, who on Sunday got through three perfect innings on only 25 pitches. As for Isringhausen, he's slated to see game action this week.



3. Twins fifth starter

The Contenders: Sidney Ponson, Matt Garza, Scott Baker

The Favorite: Ponson

Unfortunately for Twins fans, it's advantage Ponson in this one. Ponson had a good outing in a minor league spring game, and Garza, meanwhile, was removed from his outing on Monday with a stiff neck. Even before this, some members of the Twins' front office intimated that Garza might be dispatched to the minors to begin the season. As for Baker, he's sporting a 24.30 ERA thus far in Grapefruit League play. As we said, advantage Ponson.



4. Yankees fifth starter

The Contenders: Carl Pavano, Jeffrey Karstens

The Favorite: Pavano

The job has long been Pavano's to lose, but his health was the question. So when a line drive injured his foot last week, it appeared that his spot might be in peril. However, Pavano returned to the mound over the weekend, pitched tolerably and reported no foot pain afterward. The job is his provided he's healthy, but in his case that's a major qualifier.



5. Angels fifth starter

The Contenders: Jered Weaver, Hector Carrasco, Dustin Moseley

The Favorite: Carrasco

It all depends on Weaver's status. A case of biceps tendonitis has sidelined him, but the Angels are hopeful that he'll be ready by Opening Day. Their options to step into the breach are limited. Carrasco is the likely first choice, but in 11 seasons in the majors he's made only nine starts. Moseley, meanwhile, has struggled in three cracks at the Triple-A level. In other words, the Angels had better hope Weaver's condition improves in a hurry.



6. Dodgers fifth starter

The Contenders: Chad Billingsley, Brett Tomko, Hong-Chih Kuo, Mark Hendrickson

The Favorite: Billingsley

Spots one through four in the Dodgers rotation are set, but as is the case with many other teams, they're hoping one of their fifth-starter candidates distinguishes himself this spring. Billingsley had an impressive half-season in L.A. last year, so that in tandem with his high ceiling make him the frontrunner. Billingsley, Kuo and Tomko all have scoreless springs going for them, and it may come down to who's hottest when the team heads west. Chad Billingsley came on strong in the second half last season. Will that be enough to give him the Dodgers' fifth rotation spot?



7. A's center fielder

The Contenders: Mark Kotsay, Milton Bradley, Bobby Kielty

The Favorite: Depends ?

Kotsay's back injury has made this a fluid situation, and it appears he'll open the season on the disabled list. If he's not able to go on Opening Day, then Milton Bradley or Bobby Kielty will likely start in center. Needless to say, neither can compare to Kotsay defensively. Kotsay will have additional tests on his back this week, and the hope is that a clear timetable will emerge.



8. Brewers third baseman

The Contenders: Corey Koskie, Ryan Braun, Tony Graffanino, Craig Counsell

The Favorite: Braun

Koskie is still recovering from post-concussion syndrome and has yet to resume baseball-related activities. There's no telling when ? or if ? he'll be ready for game action. The Brewers had intended to go with a Counsell-Graffanino platoon in Koskie's absence, but Braun's spring numbers may change those plans (three home runs in 10 at bats). Braun is the best hitting prospect in the system, and the Brewers envision his holding down the third base job for years to come. He wasn't supposed to win the job this quickly, but circumstances and a hot spring by Braun may dictate otherwise. Braun's defense at third, which is comfortably sub-optimal, remains a concern; however, to the end of improving his glovework, he's been working closely this spring with infield coach Dale Sveum. If Braun does win this battle (right now he's sidelined with a sore elbow), then he'll contend for NL Rookie of the Year honors.



9. Marlins closer

The Contenders: Taylor Tankersley, Kevin Gregg, Henry Owens, Matt Lindstrom

The Favorite: Gregg

Here we have what may be the most wide-open job of all. Coming into Spring Training, Tankersley was poised to seize the job; however, Tankersley is currently sidelined with a case of shoulder tendonitis. As well, Josh Johnson's elbow injury means that Ricky Nolasco, who was once in the closer mix, will now open the season in the rotation. That leaves Gregg as the favorite at this writing. If he pitches well and Tankersley doesn't get his spring innings in, then Gregg will open the season as the Marlins' closer. If Gregg stumbles, however, then Owens or Lindstrom could step in.



10. Phillies catcher

The Contenders: Rod Barajas, Carlos Ruiz

The Favorite: Barajas

The Phillies have already decided that Ruiz, the rookie, will break camp on the active roster, and that means a spring battle with Barajas, the veteran, for the starting job. Expect Charlie Manuel to play the veteran hand, but if Ruiz comfortably outperforms Barajas in exhibition play, then things could get interesting. Barajas is a catch-and-throw type best suited to a backup role, while Ruiz has fairly strong power numbers in the minors. Still, Barajas has the edge.

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