Monday, June 15, 2015

MLB - New Kids on the MLB Block

Now that we’re a third of the way though the MLB it’s time to recognize that some the amazing turnarounds we’ve seen to start the season aren’t early season aberrations, and these clubs figure to around with the season changes. Houston Astros – Perhaps a change of scenery was exactly what the franchise needed. Perpetual cellar dwellers in the NL for years, a change the on AL West where they still went a dismal 70-92 last year but up from the year before and in 2015 actually sit atop the AL West at 36-28, 2.5 games clear of the Rangers, and five games off the best record in the league. Easily their best start since they used to challenge for not just the division crown but the League Pennant back when they had pitchers like JR Richard and Nolan Ryan. I know it’s early but they’re following the formula for success, be tough to beat at home, the Astros have a league best 21 wins and play .500 ball on the road where they’re 15-14. Of course the million dollar question is can the keep this going through the gauntlet that is 162 games? Texas Rangers - Speaking of the AL West the only team finish worst than the Astros in the division last year were the Rangers whom now reside right behind them in second place. A balance of crafty vets and young talent Texas has brought some excitement back to the lone-star state outside of football season. The shot in the arm of bringing back Josh Hamilton for one more trip around the bases has put cheeks in the seats and he immediately paid dividends before going to the DL, (again). He will need to stay healthy and continue to produce for the Rangers to be around come September, and they had better be close to the top because come August, all the attention in the State will move towards the grid iron. New York – Wait for it….METS! Yep it’s the Metropolitans not the Yankees that are the talk of the Empire State right now, at 34-18 they’re ion a battle with Nationals for the NL East lead. That itself is kind of big news as we’re already in June and they haven’t faded yet, but it gets bigger when you throw into the mix that the Nationals were not only the consensus pick to win the division, but the NL as well. Moreover, this wasn’t even supposed to be close, like last year when the Nats won the divison by 17 games. Yea, can you believe it? I’m talking 17 games, that’s over 10% of the season they could have taken off and still taken the flag, and it was over by this time last year! So yes, the Mets going from a distant third to leading the NL East is a big deal even though it’s early June and if you don’t believe me ask anyone McFadden’s how happy they are that they have some statistical retorts for the fans from that other team that resides in the state. Minnesota Twins – This can’t be the best story simply because the Twins have rings on their fingers and were once the best team in baseball. The fact that it was well over a decade ago is part of the lure. The Twins are 34-26 recently falling out of first place due to a 3-7 stretch but they’re right in the mix. Last year, Minnesota was dead last, just three games above the club with the worst record in baseball, the afore mentioned Texas Rangers. That alone is something to celebrate but the fact that they’re holding off the challenge from the ‘lumber company’ that is the Detroit Tigers, the pre-season favorite to take the division is something that has fans that aren’t used be being happy this time of the season, or for most of the year for that matter, have to be exited about. That those old glory days of Jack Morris and Kirby Pucket may not be too far away.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

MLB Opening Day - The Toughest Divisions

Happy New Year! It may have taken close to six months but for anyone outside of the city of San Francisco it was much needed time for the wounds to heal or the punch to take effect depending on either you lost in the playoffs or believe your club made enough off-season improvements to get into the playoffs this year. Well it’s April, Spring is here, and hope rings eternal. Not to mention it’s an odd number year so the Giants won’t be winning it, leaving the door open for someone else to come in and raise a banner. Some franchises are going ‘all in’ to make a run at it this year and for some this may be the last year to cash in on bets they already made. The “Money Ballers” need to get some immediate ROI for their owners whose patience might be running out, and the rebuilders need to see some more floors added to that foundation. Here are the divisions and what class each falls into. Starting with what we think is the toughest division the NL Central. If this were the NFL the consensus would be that because this division has beaten each other up all year the winner won’t have anything left for the playoffs, but this is baseball and the one that comes out of this division may be so battle tested that the rest of the playoffs seems downhill. We think the Cardinals will be back, but will hold off the Pirates in the final week to once again for the division. Hard to believe St. Louis had a weakness last year but they certainly did in right field, so they went out and got one of the best prospects out there in Jason Heyward which should solidify the outfield. They will need crafty vets Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and Jhonny Peralta to step up big and Wainwright to have another banner year as the ace. 1. Cardinals 2. Pirates 3. Cubs 4. Brewers 5. Reds The balance of power keeps us in the NL as the West is second but not far behind. The defending champs are going to try and break the ‘odd year’ omen but it won’t be this year as there is just too much power at the top of the division starting with the defending NL West Champion Dodgers. Despite winning 94 games last year it was considered a failure as they won the division and had home field against the Cards forcing them to beat Kershaw and Greinke to advance, and they did just that, so the team with the highest payroll in baseball not only didn’t win the World Series but couldn’t even get there. They have made both front office and field moves in the off season to see that they clear both hurdles this year but it will be tough as they have some serious competition from no just their own division but their own state. LA let shortstop Hanley Ramirez walk, also all-star Dee Gordon and opted for Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick. A real controversial move that will have the banter flowing if it doesn’t pay dividends, but where they really needed help last year was the pen and I don’t know if I see the big moves there just yet. At the end of the day they still have the two-headed monster of Kershaw and Greinke and any support could propel the Dodgers to where they (and their payroll) think they should be. 1. Dodgers 2. Padres 3. Giants 4. Rockies 5. Diamond Backs We move over to the AL but stay in the West as the trio of the Mariners, Angels, and A’s, will be among the best three inner-divisions teams in baseball. Ironically as ARod makes his comeback to the show the Mariners will be making their return to the playoffs and threating to make a deep run for the first time since ARod and Jr. graced the diamond together, coming off their best season since 09’. They added Nelson Cruz, Justin Ruggiano, and Rickie Weeks which should give them more pop in the line up to join Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. If King Felix can come back again for another strong year and anchor the pitching staff the M’s will be tough. The Angels seem to perpetually have the best regular season record in the division, much like last year’s 98-64, only to get upset in the Divisionals by the eventual AL representative Kansas City Royals. The Angels will try to get back but they will fall a little short, taking 2nd in the division. The A’s will do what they always do, fly under the radar then sneak up on teams in the end. 1. Mariners 2. Angels 3. A’s 4. Rangers 5. Astros Although we may not have it in the top three, the AL East may be the only division where every team ends up above .500 for the year. This division already reminds me of the old Big East Basketball conference back in its glory days, when every game of every week was just a war. Add that to the drama of the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry and the fact the Orioles and Blue Jays could take the flag and you’ve got the makings of must see TV. The Sox are coming off a very disappointing 71-win season last year and have made some key off-season acquisitions including Kung Fu Panda and Hanley Ramirez. They should improve an offense that scored a dearth of runs in 2014 and if nothing else they will have more personality. The Orioles are coming off a 96-win season, their best since1997 but a disappointing post season along with the other top-seed from the NL, losing in the first round. This year they hope to put together both ends, strong reg season and post season run to the World Series. 1. Orioles 2. Red Sox 3. Blue Jays 4. Yankees 5. Rays The AL Central has some quality at the top of the division as both the Tigers and Indians are contenders for not just for the division but the AL crown as well. However the lower half of the division is soft, and a big reason why we expect Detroit and Cleveland to win better than 85 games because they will get fat on the feeder fish of the division. The Royals are coming off a Cinderella run to the World Series last year but would do well to finish 82-80 this year. On the bottom the White Sox and Twins under/over are 78 and 74 respectively, meaning they will do their best just to get in the way. The Tigers lost their ace Max Scherzer to the Nats in one of the most lucrative contracts in MLB history adding pressure to the aging Justin Verlander and additions Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene. I’m not sure if that rotation can go the distance of a 15-round, 182 game season. If not, the Indians will gladly step into their place, and they have an ace of their own in Corey Kluber who will get help from Carlos Carrasco giving them a great 1-2 punch that was as good as any in baseball over the last month of the 2014 campaign. 1. Tigers 2. Indians 3. Royals 4. White Sox 5. Twins The last in line is the NL East. True, the Nationals may be the best team in the NL for the second straight year (based on record) but the air really gets thin after that as the Marlins and Mets will struggle to break .500, and the Braves and Phillies may not win 70 games. So if the those numbers hold true there may be a lot fluff in the Nats win total, as it turned out there was last season as well. The Marlins who have had the reputation for going beyond “money ball”, not only pried open their wallets but broke the bank in the process by offering Stanton the sports first 300m contract but it didn’t leave much for the rest. They are still very young and next year the story may end differently but this year we think they might finish 2nd in the division but not enough wins to make the wild card. The Metropolitans didn’t do much to the lineup after the addition of Michael Cuddyer so I’m not sure what they expect to see in the big apple but if Bartolo Colon is your opening day pitcher they must not be a whole lot in the cupboard. We’ve covered the feeder fish in this division, the Braves had a fire sale and blew up what was left of the team to load up for the future and Phillies have one of the oldest lineups in the league and are predicted to finish dead last in the NL. If you’re gonna’ be bad at least show signs of stockpiling for the future. 1. Nationals 2. Marlins 3. Mets 4. Braves 5. Phillies

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

They Might Really Be Giants

The arduous nine month journey is over with a new World champion being crowned and the third time in six years the ring holders reside from the Bay area. Also in familiar fashion, apologies are in order for most of us that didn’t think they would get out of the West four months ago let alone the National League. However in typical Giant fashion now folklore they put it together exactly when they needed to, did just a little more than the club they were playing and just enough to win and eventually won the war of attrition to bring another tittle to NoCal. I mean really, how many of you honestly thought that after losing Angel Pigan thought they even had a chance to make any real noise? Pense wasn’t hitting real well, Sandoval was being sat down of games at a time “to rest” and other than Bumgarner they didn’t look to have a consistent starter. The Dodgers had just burned through their 9 game cushion and they were now tied with LA shortly after getting swept at A T & T park. Honestly there was more talk about restructuring than winning another World Series. All of us bloggers, writers, pundits that were provided with months of fodder by adamantly stating that the “every other year” notion had no more validity to than the “curse of the bambino” or the sheep in Chicago well, maybe there was something more to it than we thought and may I be the first to step up to the cafeteria and get a plateful of crow. I’ve written before that That I felt this club and franchise in particular more resembles the execution of the ‘Money Ball” theory than their brothers from across the bay, and they are the reciprocal of they’re attempting to do down in LA which is to spend your way into the Series. Whatever it is, it is working, well at least every other year. We would be remised if we didn’t extend to the levels of hyperbole to illustrate how great a coaching job Bruce Boche has done. Sure he had a horse to ride in Bumgarner, but he paid attention to when the buzzer sounded and then stopped the ride, as opposed to Don Mattingly who always seemed to leave his ace in one inning too many. Boche never seemed to be in that position and that’s the mark of a great manager, sure there’s always pressure situations but the moves are so seamless that the club seems to avoid being on the wrong end of dramatic moments, like 3-run jacks to complete a 7 run comeback. San Francisco took its beating in game 6 then calmly came back in game 7 when the city, the odds makers, and most of the country was waving blue towels and simply slammed the door on the dream and the series. Lastly, how about the play of Pablo Sandoval? He would have been in line to pick up his second WS MVP putting him in Hall of Fame company, if he wasn’t surpassed by an even more unhuman performance of one Madison Bumgarner. Not bad for a guy not expected to last past his contract year. So now perhaps the Giants will do their best to help lower the unemployment rate, and take a year sabbatical and give someone else a chance to justify the money they spent to build a winner. It would be nice to see someone like the Orioles, Royals, Pirates, or even the Dodgers get back to the spotlight after a couple of decades but even if that happens, they shouldn’t get too comfortable because the Giants will probably be back in 2016.
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