Wednesday, October 23, 2013

2013 Fall Classic: Parting of the “Red Sea”

Add another chapter to this baseball royalty rivalry as for the fourth time in their illustrious histories, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox meet in the World Series. In until 2004, when the Red Sox ended 88 years of championship futility among other things, the Cardinals had sung sweet music against Boston winning the previous two match-ups in 1946 and 1967. The Red Sox of course 11 years ago, capped off their magical comeback against the Yankees in the ALCS after trailing 0-3 with a sweep of the Red Birds in the Fall Classic. That leads us to the present where both teams won the most games during the regular season in their respective leagues with identical records of 97-65. Despite the small differences in the shades of red on the uniforms and starting rotations where St. Louis has a slight edge, these teams are so evenly matched you’d have to be Moses blessed by the power of God to see the future of how this series is going to turn out! Adam Wainwright falls back into his number one slot in the Red Birds pitching rotation as the series opener starter against John Lester of the Sox. The right-hander was solid in his only start against the Dodgers in the NLCS despite a 3-0 loss in game three of the series. He pitched seven innings giving up six hits with two earned runs and five strike outs. Lester was equally impressive in his only ALCS start a 4-3 win in game five in Detroit. He tossed 5&1/3rd, allowing seven hits with just two earned runs. The game two starters are Michael Wacha for the Cards and John Lackey of the Sox. Here is where St. Louis gets the first edge in the series. Wacha to date is the story of the post-season so far. The 22-year –old rookie baffled the Dodgers line-up twice allowing no runs and clinching the NLCS for St. Louis in a 9-0 victory earning him most valuable player honors. With that said, Lackey is a much better pitcher at Fenway Park (game two site) then on the road. In two post-season starts, Lackey has produced two wins with one quality start. He’s tossed 12 innings, giving up 11 hits but only four earned runs while striking out 14. Wacha may be as hot as a pitcher can be this time of year but Lackey is a veteran and knows how to battle through an inning. The three and four men in each rotation are where some question marks maybe creep in. Game three matches up another rookie in the Card’s Joe Kelly against veteran Clay Buchholz. Kelly pitched to mix results in the NLCS, winning a close game one against the Dodgers that Los Angeles should have taken, only to lose in the re-match in Los Angeles in game five getting hit hard in the 6-4 defeat. The return of Buchholz from injury pushed the Sox onto another level for the post-season. While not picking up a win three post-season starts, he did give Boston a quality start and wasn’t the losing pitcher in any of his games, throwing 16.2 innings overall, allowing 19 hits and ten earned runs against a beastly Detroit Tigers line-up. Lance Lynn starts game four for St. Louis at Busch Stadium against Jake Peavy. Lynn picked up the series swing game for the Cards with a solid 4-2 victory at Dodgers Stadium giving up six hits in 5&1/3rd innings with two earned runs. Peavy on the other hand will need to be a lot better than his disastrous ALCS start in Detroit where he lasted just three innings giving up five hits and seven earned runs with just one strike out, an epic fail the Red Sox can’t afford to try and withstand with the World Series trophy at stake. As far as the starters go, we have to give a small edge to the Cardinals. Wainwright has the most post-season experience of any pitcher in the series and Wacha has shown the most over-power stuff so far. The game three and four matches appear to be a total toss-up as far as which pitcher will show up and not let the moment engulf him on the mound. Defensively and at the plate this teams are a splitting image of each other but of course in the different leagues. Behind the plate Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been solid for the Sox hitting .273 with 14 homers and 40 doubles during the regular season. He produced the walk-off hit in game two of the ALCS during the Red Sox comeback win. However, Yadier Molina is the best catcher in the game, calling pitches, throwing out runners and coming up with big hits. The Cards get a solid edge in the catcher spot. At first base it will be interesting to see of the Red Sox gamble and play David Ortiz on the road where he’ll have to play in the field as opposed to just the DH spot at home, keeping his bat in the line-up but also taking Mike Napoli’s out as well as Napoli’s glove. Whoever is in the Boston line-up at first has more experience and just as much power as St. Louis rookie Matt Adams who didn’t produce much in the NLCS but did homer in the divisional series win over Pittsburgh. The edge here to come up big in the clutch has to go the Red Sox way at 1B. Arguably the two best hitters from each club play at second base. Matt Carpenter hit .318 with 55 doubles and 78 RBI, while scoring 126 runs in the regular season for St. Louis. Who could forget his epic plate battle with Clayton Kershaw in the Cards clinching game six win of the NLCS where he forced the lefty into 11 pitches before lacing a rally starting double down the right field line that led to the deciding three-run inning? Those are the type of at bats he’s capable of. The heart and soul of the Red Sox however is Dustin Pedroia. He is a master with the glove, while also hitting .301 with 42 doubles, driving in 84 runs and scoring 91runs himself. He is by far the superior fielder but their base running skills are both dangerous so we’ll call this match-up a draw. At shortstop both the Cards Pete Kozma and Boston’s Stephen Drew are awesome flashing the leather. However at the plate Drew has a solid on base percentage and good power, so he wins the battle here. Moving to third base, this isn’t 2011 and we’re not seeing the MVP David Freese at all. He’s hitting just .189 with nine strikeouts and four runs batted in for the entire post-season. But Boston’s answer is a bit of a question mark as rookie Xander Bogaerts appears to be now getting the nod in place of Will Middlebrooks. He does have tremendous speed on the bases and is a contact hitter with a good eye as well but it’s hard to say how he’ll hold up under the pressure of a World Series game. We’re going to call this match-up a draw as well. On to the outfield and in left it’s Matt Holiday against the Red Sox Daniel Nava or Johnny Gomes. Nava is solid but Gomes seems to be getting the post-season nod. Gomes has made some nice plays in the field but overall Nava is a much better defensive player. Holiday on the other hand like Gomes could be a liability in the outfield. At the plate however Holiday is a much more clutch hitter and a more experienced post-season player. Holiday gets a nice edge in this category. Like all centerfielders both Jon Jay of St. Louis and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Sox can fly on the bases and run down balls in the allies. Jay though seems to be out of sync altogether compared to what we’ve seen from him in the post-season before. Ellsbury is hitting .400 in the post-season with 21 total bases with six steals. Jay is hitting eighth for the Cards while Ellsbury is leading off for the Sox which tells you all you need to know. Big advantage for Boston with Ellsbury’s entire post-season performance to date. Maybe the best match-up all over the field is in right where Carlos Beltran goes head to head with Shane Victorino. Victorino is a proven post-season performer and winner, grabbing a ring with the Phillies in 2008. He came up with the game winning grand slam to put Boston into the World Series in game six of the ALCS. He also is roadrunner on the bases and can play the outfield with the best of them. Beltran continues to make a name for himself as one of the best post-season hitters of this generation. His arm in the outfield is deadly as the Dodgers found out with him gunning down Los Angeles’ potential winning run in Mark Ellis on a tag-up in game one of the NLCS, which really turned the series in the direction of the Cardinals. But before you can throw someone out, you have to be able to get to balls and Beltran’s foot speed is nowhere near Victorino’s ability to cover ground. We’ll have to give a slight edge here to the flying Hawaiian. Of course when games 1, 2 and possibly 6 and 7 are played, they’ll be at Fenway Park with a designated hitter. So you match up Allen Craig and Ortiz. Craig was the Cards overall best hitter with RISP (59 for 130) during the regular season. But he’s missed all post-season play up this point with a Lisfranc injury. If can return as the productive .315 hitter overall along with his clutch gene in play, this is a big positive for the Cards who’s bench is not good. Big Papi handles the DH role for Boston at home and we all know how that story usually plays out. Advantage here goes to the Red Sox. In the intangibles category, one stat really sticks out in general. No team in baseball in the regular season hit right-handed pitcher better than the Red Sox. Their .818 team OPS against righties was the best in the majors by 30 points. Of course all four St. Louis starters are right-handed with just two exceptions coming out of the bullpen in Kevin Siegrist and Randy Choate so the Red Sox get the check mark here. Speaking of the bullpen, both teams bring the heat. St. Louis throws multiple flame-throwers like Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness, Siegrist and closer Trevor Rosenthal. Boston brings to the table Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, Ryan Dempster and closer Koji Uehara. Both of these bullpens have been completely reliable in the post-season with neither team suspect heading into the seventh inning holding onto a lead so this category is called even. With all that information examined closely there is just one more stat that says plenty about the Red Sox. Boston of course finished in last place during the 2012 season causing the removal of manager Terry Francona. With John Farrell taking over the Red Sox have not only responded but also have come together as the most unified team in the majors this season. In other words, setting aside the entire beard thing they’ve attached themselves to, the Sox simply have the look of ‘it’s our year”. We like Boston to beat St. Louis in six games for their third title of the new millennium.

Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 League Championship Series: Battle of Baseball Royalty

And then there were four. Not just any four though! These league championship series aren’t inviting any Cinderella’s to the ball it’s all about the big boys of baseball history. Four old school franchises each rich in the Great American pastime’s pedigree, popularity and post-season history. The Dodgers, Cardinals, Red Sox and Tigers, four icons of Major League Baseball, four organizations that pre-date the sport’s golden age, all sharing the October stage together for the first time since the league championship series format began in 1969. On the eve of game one of the NLCS, one could argue this is the most evenly matched foursome in league championship series history, period. Dodgers vs. Cardinals At the season’s start many prognosticators picked both the Dodgers and Cardinals to battle for a trip to the World Series, so this match-up is not much of a surprise especially considering the starting pitching staffs, both clubs have put together. With Clayton Kershaw working on short rest to dispose of the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, Los Angeles number two man Zack Greinke gets the ball in game one for L.A. He’ll face St. Louis youngster Joe Kelly, as Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright worked game five for the Red Birds in their ousting of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since recovering from a broken collarbone early in the season, Greinke has been just as good as Kershaw in the Dodgers rotation, basically giving the Blue Crew essentially two aces on the mound. Together they allowed the Braves to score just three earned runs in 19 innings with no long balls against baseball’s best home run hitting team this season. So the Cards will see Greinke’s 2.63 ERA, followed by Kershaw’s 1.83 ERA in games one and two in St. Louis. The game three starter for L.A. will be South Korean sensation Hyan-Jin Ryu. The rookie was spectacular in the regular season before appearing to tire down the stretch in his first full campaign in the United States. Ryu was shaky in his only NLDS performance against the Braves giving up two first inning runs and two more before getting the hook in the fourth after 68 pitches. During his post-game presser he admitted to feeling a little more anxious compared to his regular season starts, so the jury is still out on just how effective he’ll be in game three when the series shifts to Dodger Stadium. For game four, no decision has been made on whether Ricky Nolasco gets the nod or not. The fourth Los Angeles starter struggled so much over the last three weeks of the regular season; manager Don Mattingly skipped his start in the clinching game against Atlanta using Kershaw. If Nolasco is passed over again, the Dodgers could throw either Edinson Volquez who made five starts for LA in September and posted a 4.18 ERA or even Chris Capuano, who made several starts earlier in the season before battling injuries late in the year and being moved to the bullpen. Capuano did toss three innings of scoreless relief in the Dodgers win over Atlanta in game three of the NLDS. All three are crafty veterans but don’t have the same stuff as Greinke, Kershaw and Ryu. For the Red Birds on the hill, they are both accomplished and young. Kelly sports a gaudy ERA of just 2.69 in the regular season. He started one game of the Cards-Bucs series, going 5.1 innings, allowing five hits and two earned runs with four walks and five k’s. The question surrounding this rookie in such a big game at home is whether or not the moment will be too much for the 25-year-old? From there the Cards hand the ball over to a 22-year-old, in Michael Wacha. So far Wacha has been flawless for St. Louis since being called up late in the season due to injuries. The right-hander, like Kelly has been on fire so far this post-season allowing just two hits in 16 innings against Pittsburgh, so pressure doesn’t seem to be much of an anxiety trigger for him. The ace Wainwright takes the ball in game three on the road, which could be the pivotal game of the series should the teams split in St. Louis. He’s already shown his post-season toughness, picking up two of the Cards wins in their five game series against the Bucs. The fourth starter for St. Louis will be Shelby Miller who didn’t start a game in the NLDS but did pitch one inning giving up one earned run in a relief performance. At just 23-years-old, some believe his arm is tired after throwing 173 innings during his first full big league season but he did pitch in last season’s post-season, so he does have some experience on the big stage. We give the Dodgers a slight edge in the pitching match-up because of the experience and age of the starters compared to the Cardinal youth with the exception of Wainwright. When you start talking about the offense and line-ups, once again these teams are about as even as two can be. The Dodger bats exploded after the All-Star break ranking third in runs scored, when Los Angeles put together one of the most remarkable records (42-8) in modern baseball history for a 50 game stretch. It all starts with rookie Yasiel Puig. Since his June call-up the Dodgers fortunes took a 180 degree turn. Not only is he still a .319 hitter and home run threat but his base running ability puts pressure on the defense like no other player in the majors. Leadoff hitter Carl Crawford has seemed to find his stroke hitting three home runs in the NLDS and is also a base stealing threat. Following the steady contact hitter Mark Ellis in the two-hole the Cards will then have to deal with Adrian Gonzalez (.293, 22 HR), MVP candidate Hanley Ramirez (.345, 20 HR) and then Puig. Andre Ethier is still not ready to start in centerfield in place of Skip Schumaker but does bring the Dodgers a huge left-handed bat off the bench for now. One must not forget Juan Uribe’s experience and knack for the big post-season hit (just ask Atlanta) or A.J. Ellis’ ability to put the ball in play in the eighth spot. Also, Dodger pitchers Greinke, Kershaw and Ryu all handle the bat extremely well for pitchers as far as making contact. St. Louis can flat out score runs as well. The Cardinals led the NL in runs scored during the first half of the season and the second half as well. They roll out seven hitters with an OBP of .335 or higher and four of the seven hit above .300. While they didn’t knock the cover off the ball over the wall in the regular season finishing 13th in home runs in the NL, they did hit a long ball in each game of the NLDS. They’ll need lead-off man Matt Carpenter to get his act together after going just 1-for-19 in the division series win over the Bucs. Carlos Beltran hitting second wasn’t much better going 4-for-18 but did rope two home runs in the series and is known for his playoff punch at the plate. Following Beltran comes the real power in Matt Holiday (.319), Mike Adams (17 HR) and catcher Yadier Molina (.300), all who hit a home run against Pittsburgh in the NLDS. At the end of the order David Freese was the Cards’ post-season hero in 2011 and jacked the winning home run in the game five win over Pittsburgh, while both Jon Jay and Pete Kozma are contact guys that can steal bases. However, with Ethier, veteran Michael Young and power man Scott Van Slyke coming off the bench in pinch-hit situations the Dodgers bench is stronger and so is the overall line-up by just a small margin. Like the starting staffs and line-ups, the bullpens of these teams match-up extremely well. Kenley Jansen (1.88 ERA) is arguably is the best closer in the NL at the time. Brian Wilson since joining the Dodgers has been a solid bridge to the 9th inning giving up nothing, while sporting a 0.66 ERA. Youngster Chris Withrow gives the Dodgers a power throwing righty that can toss long innings and J.P. Howell is a crafty veteran the Braves were able to get nothing off of. The concerns for Don Mattingly come from righty Ronald Belisario and lefty Paco Rodriguez. Both were lights out during the Dodgers historic run over the second half of the season but have struggled the last month. Rodriguez surrendered Jason Hayward’s game winning hit in game two of the NLDS and his home run in game three. Belisario gave up two hits and a run for a 3-2 deficit in the Dodgers eventual 4-3 win to clinch the series against the Braves. You have to wonder how much trust Mattingly has in either one of these relievers at the moment. St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal is a rookie and not yet in Jansen class of throwers but has been solid down the stretch. Carlos Martinez is a hard throwing right-hander with not a ton of big league experience but nasty stuff. Manager Mike Matheny will have to hope the moment doesn’t become too large for either of these guys. Lefties Kevin Siegrist and former Dodger Randy Choate will be ready for the Crawford, Gonzalez, Ethier part of the Los Angeles line-up, while Maness is a ground ball special from the right-side. Once again, the nod here goes to the Dodgers. Finally you have to add in what the managers bring to the table. Mike Matheny has watched Tony LaRussa do it but also watched the Cards blow a 3-1 lead to the Giants last year in the NLCS only to lose 4-3. Mattingly is riding through is first post-season rodeo as a manager and has already made some questionable decisions in the NLDS, one that maybe cost the Dodgers game two in Atlanta. Matheny with the experience holds a slight edge in this match-up. Overall however, we see the Dodgers with just a little more on the table than the Cardinals as well as the perfect combination of superstar power and blue collar grit to advance to the World Series beating the Cardinals in six games. Tigers vs. Red Sox It’s hard to believe that in the 112 years both the Tigers and Red Sox have been a part of Major League Baseball, they’ve never met in the post-season until now. Well the wait is over and this one appears to be well worth waiting for! For Motown, this is their third straight ALCS. While they reached the World Series last year, the trip ended in disaster with a sweep to the underdog San Francisco Giants so you know the motivation factor is sky high. Boston, under new manager John Farrell pulled off one of the biggest one-season turnarounds in baseball history! The Red Sox ended the year at 97-65, a 28 game turnaround, while the 97 victories were the second most regular season wins for a Boston team since 1978. Like the National League Championship Series the ALCS sports tremendous starting pitching on both sides. Detroit leads with the duel-ace combo of eventual AL CY Young winner Max Scherzer (21 wins, 2.90 ERA, 240 k’s) and the sudden reappearance of Justin Verlander the former CY Young winner. After just a 13-12 record this season, Verlander has found his “A+ stuff. He did not allow a run to the Oakland A’s in 15 innings of the Tigers ALDS win, while striking out 21 batters, improving to 7-4 lifetime in the postseason with a 3.48 ERA in 14 starts. Third starter Anibal Sanchez, who will pitch game one, led the AL in ERA this season at 2.57 but was rocked by Oakland in the divisional series to the tune of six runs (5 earned) in just 4& 1/3rd innings. Scherzer will pitch game two, followed by Verlander in game three when the series heads to Motown. Doug Fister gets the fourth start and depending on the situation like the Oakland series, could have a short hook from manager Jim Leland. The Red Sox bring to the mound not the same type of over-powering arms but starters that have proven to be equally effective from one thru four. Unlike Detroit, Boston’s rotation is set from the top with ace Jon Lester throwing in game one. He went 15-8 this past season with an ERA of 3.75. He surrendered just two runs in 7& 2/3rd innings in a win over the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS and in his career has held the opposition to a .199 batting average with 46 strikeouts in 49& 2/3rd postseason frames. The shakiest starter in the Boston rotation is now game three-starter, John Lackey. The Tigers will face him not at Fenway Park, where he has been solid in 2013 but at home. He beat the Rays in game two of the ALDS after going 6-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 13 home starts during the regular season. Overall this season he finished just 10-13, so the key is getting Lackey at Comerica Park where the odds of beating him go way up and for some reason that’s the position Farrell has put him in. At the number two spot the Sox have a wild-card in Clay Buchholz. He missed three months of the season with a shoulder issue but was solid in his return so far. His move to the game-two slot shows the confidence Farrell possesses in him, especially if Lester losses game one. Jake Peavy rounds out the Boston rotation and has proven to be a more than solid fourth starter. With Verlander appearing to regain his CY Young form over his last two playoffs starts the rotation edge has to go towards the Tigers but not by much. The tri-aces of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez were responsible for setting an all-time record for highest strikeout rate in baseball history by averaging 8.79 k’s per nine innings. This group of Red Sox struck out 1,308 times this season, the AL’s fourth-highest total. When you talk about offense this is a match-up of titans in both dugouts. However the Detroit bats will have to make a lot more noise than in their ALDS victory over the A’s. Besides Victor Martinez (9 hits) and Jhonny Peralta(5 hits) the Tigers offense proved to be the worst of the four teams to advance and even under-hit the eliminated Pittsburgh Pirates, batting just .235 with 17 runs scored and three homers in five games. Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera who of course is injured struggled against Oakland with the exception of Cabrera’s game-five winning homer and won’t beat Boston if the two-some remains quite. Tori Hunter, Alex Avila and Austin Jackson combined for just seven hits in 54 at bats which will not get it done. Boston on the other hand hit .286 as a team versus the Rays, scoring 26 runs despite only hitting two home runs total, both coming off the bat of David Ortiz. But what the Sox do well is get aboard and move at a rapid pace that is anything but station to station on the bases. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino combined for 15 hits in the ALCS and 17 total bases. Ellsbury stole four bags and Victorino one, which of course ignites the Boston offense and sets the table for sluggers like Ortiz, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Dustin Pedroia. Everyone is the Boston line-up seems to hit including Will Middlebrooks, Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava, which is why the Sox produced the best road OBA and second-best OBA this season. We also can’t forget the fact the Red Sox are baseball’s best hitting team against right handed pitching and the Tigers start four righties in their rotation. The offensive edge goes to Boston. When it comes to the bullpens, Boston gets a big edge here. The Red Sox relievers were solid this year and dominant in the ALDS. They averaged 9.8 k’s per nine innings, a 0.81 WHIP and gave up just a 1.64 ERA. All their relievers pitched well with Craig Breslow giving up just two hits, Junichi Tazawa one hit, while closer Koji Uehara was just about unhittable with the exception of the game winning home run he gave up in game three in three total innings of work. Over the course of the season he’s arguably been the best closer in the American League. Detroit on the other hand can be a bit of an adventure after the starters come out. Against the A’s they didn’t see a lot of innings because of Scherzer and Verlander. They didn’t surrender any home runs and recorded a decent amount of strike outs but they did walk batters and allowed base runners. Phil Coke is back for Detroit which will help but both Al Albuquerque and closer Joaquin Benoit were suspect against Oakland and it will only be worse against the better hitting Red Sox. Big advantage here goes to the Sox. Finally, when it comes to managers this is a push. Jim Leland has been there many times and is one of the best strategists in the game. Farrell no doubt has the pulse of his team at his ear and is respected highly in his clubhouse. This series completely rides on the arms of Detroit’s aces. If either of them falters, Boston wins in seven. If both Scherzer and Verlander are as unhittable as in the ALDS, the Tigers take it on the rode in seven.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

MLB Hopes A Pair of Game 5s Can Match Monday's Drama

With the stage to themselves after a big football weekend Major League Baseball put on a day for the ages with four games, all competitive, and all with the stakes as big as they could be with someone’s season potentially ending in three of the four games. It started with game 3 between the A’s and Tigers, a series set up as “Power Ball vs. Money Ball” as the mighty Tigers, the defending American league champs, with a 3,4,5 lineup that’s the best in the AL and includes the two-time batting champion and near triple crown winner, a protégé slugger, and .301 DH, take on the crafty scrappers from No. Cal, still associated with the based on GM Billy Beane and made famous by Brad Pitt about a club held together by microchips and duct tape. In the book David lost in the end but this script isn’t in post-production yet and the AL West champs were trying to break a 1-1 series tie on the road. They got to the defending AL champs three consecutive times from the 3rd to the 5th then shut down a series of rallies for the rest of the game to take a 2-1 series lead, despite all of the big 3 afore mentioned hitters hitting .300 with an HR. The Tigers would come back the next day and even the series after trailing Billy’s boys 3-0 and looking like the money ballers were on their way to the ALCS, but that will have to wait for another nail-biter on Wednesday as we buckle up for a Game 5. After the appetizer it was on to Heinz Field for another emotionally filled contest as the ‘good guys from the PG movie’ try to get their first series victory since 1992 and pursue their first world title since 79’ were hosting the Cardinals, winners of 11 world titles, 3 since the Pirates won their last title in ’79, the last just two years ago in 2011, and with their backs against the wall. With PNC Park, the bridge, the escalators, and bars all filled to capacity hoping to see a celebration following the game, Cardinal pitcher Mike Wacha took a no-no into the 8th inning before losing it on a solo jack by Pedro Alvarez bringing the Bucs to within a single run. In the 9th the Pirates threatened again getting the tying run in scoring position with their MVP Andrew McCutchen at the plate to bring him home in dramatic fashion. It was set up for the Hollywood ending but the Pirates play in Pittsburgh and Brad Pitt isn’t in this film as McCutchen popped out right ending the rally and sending thousands home disappointed as haunted memories of decades of disappointment begin to rear their ugly heads even though there is still one more game to play. Unfortunately the harsh reality is that the Pirates may have missed their opportunity as the Cards are 7-1 in elimination games and had the 2nd best record in baseball at home with 54 wins and will bring back 19-game winner Adam Wainwright going against 23 year-old rookie Gerrit Cole (10-7), but if Hollywood does decide to re-write the ending they won’t have to do much work as this one is writing itself. From there we move to the sunshine state where the Rays were concluding a seven day stretch that could only be described as ‘survive and advance’. Over that week Tampa Bay played four elimination games where a loss sent them home for the Winter, starting in Toronto to end the regular season where the survived 7-6, then to Texas for the tie-breaker game and a 5-2 win where they managed to avoid Darvish, then to Cleveland and the Wild Card game where they may have posted their most impressive win of the season winning easily 4-0, and lastly after dropping games 1 and 2 in Boston found themselves in another must win scenario in game 3. Finally getting some fan support behind them with 33,000 strong at Tropicana Field who wouldn’t leave disappointed although it didn’t look good when the Rays closer Fernando Rodney couldn’t shut the Sox down in the9th and gave up the tying run. However in the bottom of the ninth the Rays got a walk off big-fly from Jose Lobaton to the deepest part of the park off Boston closer Koji Uehara and you could hear the Bee Gees in the background playing the “Staying Alive” theme. Providing unbelievable theater, you had to wonder if the Rays were a team of destiny but like good teams do the Sox realized game 5s were risky business even at home, particularly when former Cy-Young award winner David Price might be on the bump, so they handled their business in game 4 the next night when the Rays literally exhausted every pitcher they had available and still couldn’t get any relief as the Sox came from behind in the final 3 innings to win 3-1. It was a great story but after 167 games the Rays maybe should have been on the road for one more. Then we resurrect the Concord and take that and fly across the country to the other coast just in time to catch the Dodgers in the same scenario as the Pirates, close shop at home or risk going on the road and playing a game 5 in the other guy’s park when you’ve been in control of the series for the most part. And, like the Pirates, the Dodgers got out to a lead, then gave up and were down to the final two innings. However unlike Pittsburgh, LA seemed to be aware that despite being in control of the series, it could turn around faster than a tennis match if they don’t hold serve so they ran their ace Clayton Kershaw out to the bump to keep the braves down. Which is what he did for 6 innings until he had to leave and then the Dodger bullpen which was normally reliable all season gave up the lead and LA was down to their last five outs. The decision that the Braves will have to justify all Winter will by they elected not bring in Craig Kimbrel, in a game they had to win. Instead they left David Carpenter out there even after surrendering a lead-off double to Yasiel Puig to start the inning, and he went one pitch too many as Juan Uribe went deep-yard into the SoCal night and with it went the Braves season. It may not have been a walk-off but with Kenley Jansen coming in to close, for all intent and purposes it was. So of the three great script-worthy stories of the MLB post-season the Dodgers amazing turn around is still alive and will be the subject of folklore if they manage to get to the next level let alone win it, and if Pittsburgh can pull off the upset on Wednesday we’ve got a box office smash regardless of how the NLCS plays out, but MLB will have a hard time writing anything better than what we saw on Oct 8, 2013.

Friday, October 4, 2013

ALDS - Some Might Find This Offensive

Both American League divisional series have their share of top-line pitchers but other than Detroit’s one-two punch of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, it’s nothing like the hurlers in both NLDS. Where the American teams prosper over the National teams is at the plate. All four squads possess the ability to put crooked numbers on the board at any time, maybe the reason the American League representative is already the favorite to win the World Series in a few weeks. Tampa Bay vs. Boston While Boston might have pulled away from the rest of the A.L. East to win the division going away it seems all the Sox actually did is force the Rays to play a couple of win or go home games on the road in the wild-card and build momentum for their ALDS starting at Fenway Park. Tampa looks to win its fourth road game in six days in game one, a match-up of Matt Moore vs. Jon Lester (won last three decisions). Boston pretty much owned the Rays during the regular season winning 12 of the 19 match-ups, going 6-4 at Fenway and 6-3 at Tropicana Field. The Rays throw their best two at the Red Sox line-up in games one and two with Moore and David Price (combined ERA of 0.86 in four starts at Fenway Park this season). Tampa must get a split in order to have any shot and they’ll have a great chance against John Lackey in game two. Lackey put together a lack-luster season going (10-13 with a 3.52 ERA). In order for the Rays to pull off the upset, Evan Longoria will need to stay hot. In his last eight games the third baseman is hitting .393 with three homers and 11 RBIs. It seems when Longoria goes, so do the Rays. James Loney (75 RBI) and Ben Zobrist (71 RBI) are threats to produce as well. Delmon Young is capable of putting a ball in the seats at any time as is rookie sensation Wil Myers although the Rays hit just 165 long balls all year long, 11th in the majors. Boston meanwhile sports the most productive offense in the bigs this season. The Sox scored 853 runs, 57 more than their nearest competitor the Detroit Tigers. Big Papi, David Ortiz is the first name that comes to mind in the Boston bat heavy line-up. Ortiz roped 30 homers to go with 103 RBI, followed by Mike Napoli’s 23 homers and 92 runs batted in. Boston follows up power with average in Daniel Nava at .303 and Dustin Pedroia at .301. The Sox lead the majors in on-base percentage at .349, as the Red Sox capitalize on the opportunities when they present themselves. Neither team’s middle relief has been much to write home about but if the Red Sox get the ball to closer Koji Uehara (1.09 ERA and 21 saves) it’s usually lights out game over. As in most divisional series this two squads know each other well. The Red Sox will not intimidate the Rays and Tampa will not be in awe of Fenway Park. The Rays are hot and both Moore and Price have had success against Boston. However with the resurgence in the Red Sox rotation as of late with Clay Buchholtz now healthy the Sox can beat you with pitching or offense. They by far have the better bats so Tampa will need lights out pitching and no shaky bullpen outings to hang around. They should split in Boston but from there the Sox depth in all areas is simply too much. Boston in four is our call. Detroit vs. Oakland If you read just headlines, this match-up translates as all Detroit. The Tigers went to the World Series last year, sport the American League’s best one-two starting pitching punch in Scherzer and Verlander and bring huge experienced bats to the plate in Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Prince Fielder and Torii Hunter. But underneath the bold print you look a little closer and spot just how consistent the A’s have been all season long. Oakland is the only team in the majors that didn’t suffer one losing month. The Athletics played steady baseball from April through September, so there is no reason to think that will change all of a sudden. The moment won’t be too large for the Athletics either. Many forget they made it to the ALDS last season before falling to these same Tigers, which went the full five games. Oakland has the home field advantage this time around and also has ace Bartolo Colon to start game one. Colon missed the post-season in 2012 while serving a suspension for PED use. Backing him up in the rotation are Jerrod Parker, Sonny Gray and Dan Straily. The three and four starters for the Tigers appear stronger at least on paper with Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister. Many don’t realize the A’s also having some long ball power as four players (Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson and Coco Crisp) with at least 22 homers. Injuries could play a role to sluggers on both teams as Cabrera has been saddled with numerous problems such as his groin, abs and hip injuries while Cespedes re-aggravated a right shoulder problem that could force him to become no more than a pinch-hitter in this series. This series could be won in the bullpen. Oakland ranks sixth this season in bullpen ERA with Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Jerry Blevins and Dan Otero getting the ball to closer Grant Balfour who was lights out in 2013. Detroit’s pen improved as Joaquin Benoit has solidified the closer role along with Drew Smyly as relievable middle relief but the edge here goes to Oakland without a doubt. While Detroit could win 1-0 or 3-2 low scoring games behind Scherzer and Verlander in the early games, they’ll need to outscore the A’s in the rest of the series and that favors Oakland, especially with game five at the rowdy O.Com Coliseum. While the Tigers are favored, we like the consistency of the A’s all-around-game, to win a five game series and advance to the ALCS.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

NLDS: Pitching Will Be the Rule of the Day

When you attempt to predict the outcome of both National League Divisional playoff series, about the only simple observation is that all four team possess superior pitching which got them this far. Offensively the Dodgers, Braves, Cardinals and Pirates all have strengths and weaknesses so in the end; you figure the starting staff and relief core that stands the tallest will produce the winner in each of the best of five game match-ups. Dodgers vs. Braves While the boys in blue seemed to take their foot off the accelerator down the stretch finishing just 9-15, orders of manager Don Mattingly, the Dodgers still possess the best starting staff of any team in the post-season according to what took place over the 162 game regular season. Lefty Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game today. His 1.83 ERA this year was the lowest by any ERA qualifier since Pedro Martinez in 2000 (1.74) and the lowest by an NL pitcher since Greg Maddux (1.63) in 1995. This means if the series goes five games the Braves would have to beat Kershaw most likely at least once, which of course is a daunting task. The Dodgers are able to follow up Kershaw with righty Zack Greinke. Greinke was arguably the Dodgers most consistent starter since recovering from a broken collarbone suffered in April during his first start against the San Diego Padres. He went 7-1 over his last 12 starts, sporting a 1.85 ERA in the second half of the season. Together they are the best 1-2 punch in the game. Even if Atlanta finds a way to split the first two games at Turner Field, the Dodgers then follow with rookie lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.00 ERA) and Ricky Nolasco (3.70 ERA) in games three and four. The Braves top starter Kris Medlen may not be considered an ace but has pitched like one over the second half of the year. In his last six starts Medlen boast a 5-0 record, allowing just four earned runs with no long balls over his last 43 frames. The rest of the rotation Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Paul Maholm each won at least ten games but don’t sport the gaudy numbers of the Dodgers starters. Los Angeles has the capability of landing a crippling 2-0 lead heading back to the west coast on the strength of just starting pitching which Atlanta doesn’t possess. Both bullpens have also been very strong with the Braves touted as the best in the majors. Craig Kimbrel is the game’s top closer with an ERA of 1.21, part of his 50 saves. If Atlanta gets to Kimbrel with the lead it’s basically its game over. David Carpenter and Luis Avilan are the bridges that connect Kimbrel to the game’s end for the A-T-L. The Dodgers bullpen has a consistent closer of its own in Kenley Jansen who’s compiled 28 saves in 32 chances, although one of those blown saves game against the Braves in Atlanta early in the year. The Los Angeles middle relief has been solid as well, with Ronald Belisario, Paco Rodriguez and the acquisition of Brian Wilson. The Dodgers don’t blow too many leads either but the bullpen nod still goes to Atlanta. Offensively is where you find question marks with both squads. The Dodgers will be missing Matt Kemp for the entire post-season with a sprained ankle and Andre Ethier will most likely just pinch hit in this series due to shin splints above his ankle, so the Los Angeles offense takes a hit there. They do still possess a monster combination of Carl Crawford, rookie Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez, who many consider the NL MVP of the regular season. Atlanta does have more home run power in Freddie Freeman (20 HR), Andrelton Simmons (17 HR), Brian McCann (20 HR), Evan Gattis (21 HR) and Justin Upton (27 HR) but as a team they strike out a lot. 1,384 fans account for the third most in baseball, while the Los Angeles pitching staff tossed 1,294 k’s which is the most of any NL playoff team. If the Dodgers staff can keep the Braves in the ballpark at Turner Field and Dodger Stadium, they hold a major advantage towards winning games. The bottom line on this series is the Dodgers bats won’t win this series but if their pitching holds serve like the regular season, they should move on in a 3-1 series victory. Pirates vs. Cardinals With their first post-season victory in 21 years last night, the Bucs are definitely the sentimental favorite in the National League playoffs. But warm and fuzzy feelings don’t help overcome a major experience gap which the Cardinals hold in this match-up. For the Red Birds it all starts behind the plate with Yadier Molina. Touted as the game’s all-around best catcher and a legit MVP candidate he gives the Cardinals a sizable defensive presence as well as a bat with both power and the ability to hit for average. This is all part of a St. Louis line-up that hit .330 with runners in scoring position during the regular season! That is a sick number that no other playoff team comes close to matching. Even though Pittsburgh won the season series 10-9, St. Louis still hit .313 with RISP against Bucs pitching. That would be more than enough in this series you’d think. Even without Allen Craig (out with a foot injury) the Cardinals line-up still led the league in runs scored during September. Matt Adams has filled in nicely in Craig’s clean-up spot hitting .326 with eight long balls last month. Both Matt Holiday and Matt Carpenter who lead the league in runs scored (126) and hits (199) boost the Cards attack even more, as they come into the post-season as the best offensive team in the National League. While the Bucs can land a few haymakers of their own from the box, Pedro Alvarez (36 HR) and Russell Martin, six of this 15 home runs this season came against St. Louis the offensive edge is way in favor of the Red Birds. Pittsburgh’s most important player Andrew McCutchen was held to an average of just .246 against the Cardinals staff this season. While Pittsburgh does have a slight edge on the mound in terms of the starting rotation, the Bucs lost it by having to use ace Francisco Liriano in their wild-card game victory. He owned the Cards this season going 3-0 and giving up just two runs in 24 innings. So rookie Garrett Cole becomes the Pirates number one in this series. He did not face St. Louis this season and finished the year by going 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in September. This could be an edge for Pittsburgh as the Cards sometimes struggle against unfamiliar arms. A.J. Burnett and Charlie Morton are wild-cards for Pittsburgh as the Cards know them both very well but when Burnett is on he’s like having another ace on the hill. Adam Wainwright again is the man for St. Louis but their five starters combined for a 2.36 ERA in September as they enter the post-season as the league’s hottest staff with Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly all capable of throwing eight quality innings on any night. The bullpens of both squads have new closers with Jason Grilli finishing for the Bucs and Trevor Rosenthal for the Cards. Grilli has more experience and appears to be back in his first half of the season form, when he led the league in saves. The Pittsburgh bullpen finished second in NL bullpen ERA at 2.85 so the nod goes to them. The late season additions of Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau give Pittsburgh experience and pop off the bench, not to mention they still can use Garrett Jones or Gaby Sanchez in pinch-hitting roles for Clint Hurdle. Don’t expect the Bucs to be wide-eyed and in awe of the Cards. As stated they won the season series and have that “special something” going on as a team this season. In the upset of the post-season we like Pittsburgh to outlast St. Louis in five games.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

AL Wild Card Race - Cleveland Rocks!

Just as the two-team wild card race was designed to do, it’s come down the final week in the American League! Four teams are realistically in the hunt with the Yankees in need of a major miracle at four back with six to play and the Kansas City Royals hanging on three behind both Tampa Bay and Cleveland who sit a game apart for the two top spots starting Tuesday. The Texas Rangers meanwhile continue to fight for their fourth straight post-season appearance and second in the wild-card one game playoff. Ron Washington’s team led the west back in early September before going 6-15 in their last 21 games to not only give the division to the A’s again but fall on the brink of missing the playoffs altogether and probably costing the manager his job in the process if they don’t rally to get in during the final week. Although starting the final week a game back, destiny still sits in the Rangers own hands, bats and gloves. Texas plays baseball’s worst team in the Houston Astros tonight and tomorrow in Arlington, before ending the season with four against the 76-80 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, also at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Of their last six games they only face one pitcher with a winning record and that being the Angels C.J. Wilson (17-7, 3.36) on Friday. Alexi Ogando (7-4, 2.93) goes for Texas. The Rangers have big pitching advantage in both of the final games of the Astros series with Yu Darvish and Martin Perez closing things out against Houston. Texas can also lay its hat on the fact they’ve gone 11-4 against the Angels so far this season, including sweeps at the end of July at home and in the beginning of August in Anaheim. The Rangers could realistically win out despite their terrible September swoon song and get in. Two behind the Rangers are the Royals who need to basically win out and get lots of help. Their end of the deal is doable with two at Seattle and four at US Cellular Field versus the White Sox. Both the Mariners and Sox have losing records at home while the Royals have gone 39-36 away from Kauffman Stadium and also gone 6-4 in their last ten games. Seattle is just 3-7 and Chicago 4-6 in their last ten so it’s not impossible but they’d still need the Rays or Indians and Rangers to collapse in the final week and all of that most likely won’t happen. With the Yankees a game behind them, their playoff scenario is even worse, although they do face Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium in a must sweep series before they even think about closing out the season over the weekend at Houston. New York needs a not only a sweep of the Rays but also the Indians, Rangers and Royals to all tank in order to play meaningful games on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. That brings us to the front runners. Tampa is the leader, one game in front of Cleveland for the first spot. The Rays do have the toughest remaining schedule with three against the Yankees and three at unpredictable Toronto. The Rays have won 9 of 16 against the Bombers, including three of five in the Bronx so you have to believe getting swept during these final three meetings is almost out of the question. In the second half of the season they’ve also won five of six from the Blue Jays, who also aren’t even over .500 at the Rogers Centre so you have to believe the Rays are in. That leaves us with the Indians and what a job new manager Terry Francona has done! Can you say possible A.L. Manager of the Year? Last season the Tribe finished 68-94, good for 20 games out in the AL Central. Entering the final six games they are 86-70, a 24 game turnaround in the loss column. Cleveland finishes its White Sox series in which they are a dominating 15-2 against Chicago, before closing the season with four at Minnesota where the Twins are just 32-43. Francona’s club has gone 10-5 versus the Twins this season and is 3-3 at Target Field. After the Indians wash the Sox away at Progressive Field, expect their playoff shopping to be very productive at Target as they pass Tampa for the top wild-card spot and end up hosting the wild-card one game playoff for their first post-season appearance since 2007.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Six in the Mix in the AL Wildcard

The American League wild card race is shaping into a big winner for those in favor of the two-team system that allows for a heart stopping one-game playoff at the end of the season. Not only is the playoff must see television but the race to get into the single-game elimination outing is turning into can’t miss scoreboard watch each and every night of the season’s final three weeks. Six teams are all legitimately in the race, separated by just 2.5 games on September 13th. While Texas and Tampa attempt to hold down the ranch with a one game lead, the big bad Yankees, despite all their injury problems and A-Rod drama are knocking on the post-season door just a game back. New York continued its relentless charge by winning three of four over Baltimore at Camden Yards. New York continues to bring the heat as it now sits within one game of its high-water mark for the season, 12 games over .500, which last occurred all the way back in May. However, the final series victory did not come without another price. Leadoff hitter Brett Gardner left the game in the first inning with a strained muscle on his left side. Obliques are one of the toughest strains for a baseball player to recover from in a timely manner because of the hitting motion and this could throw a serious wrench into the Yankees playoff chances that have pretty much been on the brink from the get-go of the season due to the injury bug that has been well documented unless you live on Pluto. With the victory the Orioles continue to be the Yankees little play toy as the win gives New York the season series victory at 10-9. Baltimore hasn’t won a season series from the Bronx Bombers since 1997. While the Yanks continue to push, the Tampa Bay Rays hoped to put a band-aid on some serious bleeding from the last two weeks. After blowing a 3-1 lead in the series finale at home against the first place Red Sox, the Rays rallied in the 8th for a run and an eventual 4-3 victory. The win comes off the heels of Tampa going 3-7 on a 10-game roadie and then losing their first two back at Tropicana Field against Boston. The Rays sudden September swoon has set up another huge series between the hated rivals Yanks and Sox this weekend in Beantown. The Friday match-up between Hiroki Kuroda and John Lackey has to favor the visitors despite the fact Boston lit up Kuroda for career worst 11 hits and five runs in just 5 2/3rds the last time he faced the Red Sox on August 17th. Overall, Kuroda is just 1-3 with a 4.26 ERA in five starts against Boston this year, splitting two outings versus Lackey, who is just 9-12 overall with a 3.48 ERA. Kuroda has been the Yankees man all season, arguably the only reason they’re still in the hunt despite their injuries. Manager Joe Girardi wouldn’t want to start anyone else in a must win series for his club. The Saturday match-up of C.C. Sabathia versus Jon Lester favors the Sox as does the Ivan Nova – Clay Buchholz Sunday outing. The Kansas City Royals have the toughest weekend ahead, facing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park as they try to close in from 2.5 out. The Orioles try to regroup on the road at Toronto, also 2.5 back of the final spot. While the Blue Jays are a below .500 team at the Rogers Centre, so are the O’s away from Camden Yard. The Rays head back out on the road against a terrible Minnesota club that has won just 30 home games all season long against 41 losses. Cleveland, the unsung dark horse in all of this continues to grind under Terry Francona, moving to just 1.5 out after winning the first of three at U.S. Cellular Field against the hapless White Sox. With six teams all within a good or bad weekend of making the playoffs, no doubt this will come down to the final week, which is what the wild card spots where intended to do!

Monday, August 5, 2013

MLB Drops the Other Shoe As ARod Drops the Ball

MLB released it’s newest greatest ‘hitlist’ today with one familiar artest being left off. Obviously the biggest name on the album would have been Alex Rodriguez but he’s inclined to appeal in an attempt to stave off the inevitable long enough to help the Yankees attempt to grab a wild card spot and try to preserve any affinity that is left for him in the big apple. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that the NY Press is as supportive have the general census has been for him just to go away. I’m not sure what his team thinks is going to happen or what their overall endgame might be but this time MLB in regards to evidence MLB has not only got the somkin’ gun, but eye witnesses, video, and fingerprints. Evidently this is such a slam dunk that all the others dubiously on the list have immediately agreed to take the 50-game suspension and attempt to move on and hopefully it will eventually go away. It seemed like after losing the Ryan Braun arbitration Selig and company retreated to base camp, refortified and came back with a blitzkrieg of information so overwhelming that most saw the writing on the wall. Speaking of the that wall here are the names of those you will not be seeing in uniform for the rest of the season. Nelson Cruz – Texas Jhonny Peralta – Detroit Antonio Bastardo – Philadelphia Jordany Valdespin – NY Mets Everth Cabrera – San Diego Fautino De Los Santos – San Diego Jesus Montero – Seattle Cesar Puello – NY Mets Fernando Martinez – NY Yankees Sergio Escalona – Houston Francisco Cervelli – NY Yankees Jordan Norberto Perhaps A-Rod should take the road most traveled on this one because it could get ugly, and if the Ryan Braun scenario was any harbinger, it will further destroy the legacy of someone who was destined to be a first ballet HOF’er with over 600 jacks and the first quarter billion dollar man. Braun took his win in the appellate court as a cue to launch an offensive on the MLB process and must have assumed that would be the end of it but it will cost him 3.6 million in salary hit for games missed and that pales in comparison to the hit to his reputation and fan base. So it may be true that New York loves a winner and in the words of Nike “winning solves everything”, but he should keep in mind that MLB is threatening to suspend him through the 2014 season and if he pushes and loses it could be even longer. That realistically should be the end of his career and he has to weigh going out in most inauspicious manner for a player of his caliber in history, and coming back as a DH for a AA ball club isn’t a fitting in for what he accomplished on the field. In short, his attempt to erase his conduct off the field by what he does on it may backfire to the point where nobody remembers what he actually did when he was.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Our Mid-Season Report Card (and it's not good)

Hard to believe we’re half way through the marathon that is the MLB season as it seems like they just threw out the first pitch but here we are and even though there’s half the season to go unless some things turn around in a hurry apologies may be in order as we did not call most of the divisions correct to start the season. In any case, let’s take a look at where we stand 90 games in from the worst to the closest thing we got to best. In the AL East we thought the many off season moves my Toronto, their new state of mind to no longer be the doormat of the East, combined by what looked to be a down year in the division, would open the door for the Jays to get back to the glory days of the 90’s but the demise of the perianal power houses was greatly exaggerated. In our defense we did believe the Yankees were “getting to long in the tooth, that injuries may catch up with them and that you wouldn’t recognize the starting lineup by the end of the year”. That seems to have held true thus far but we certainly were dead wrong on the Red Sox whom we picked to finish dead last in the division as they tore up their lineup after the debacle that was last year. Those that were not still brewin’ in clubhouse would be outmatched on the field and the Sox would struggle to score runs in a division where offense mandatory. We couldn’t have called this more wrong as the sox have gone 54-36 over the first half, have the largest positive run differential in the division (+89), lead all of baseball in runs scored (458) and on base percentage (.350). They don’t stop there as they’re 2nd in team batting average (.278) and slugging pct. (446), making them the most potent offense in the league, yea you could say we called this one the wrong way so far. Now one could argue that they only lead the division by 4 games and which is tenuous at best but as a risk/reward scenario analysis the Red Sox are back to the winning days when they had “a bunch of idiots” and Bill James’ money ballers are doing just that, ballin’. However all is not lost as our second pick in the division were the Orioles whom still could come through as the division winner or at least the wild card. Buck’s boys are primed to make a second half push and seem to have the recipe for success down as they’re playing .581 ball at home and are just over .500 on the road. Known for their final week miracles the blackbirds may not need too sweep a series over the final 3 games but it will be a dog fight for the WC in AL as four clubs are within a game and a half at the break with Cleveland just a game and a half behind them, so there is still a chance we can save face in what has consistently been the toughest division in baseball. Upon further review, we seemed to be much closer in the National League than we are in the American. In the NL East we came out of the blocks playing the favorite with the Nationals as we thought the Phillies would not have the enough in the arms race behind Cliff Lee to last the full length of the marathon. Although Philly has gotten at least 18 starts from Lee, Kendrick, and Hamels but only Lee has an ERA under 3.5 when they get down to their 4th or 5th starter they’re vulnerable and if you can get into the bullpen then they’re really in trouble. So unless they make some trades before the deadline we don’t see them getting much closer than the 7.5 they’re back right now. We also figured the Braves would, well continue to be the Braves, the best regular season team in history but fade down the stretch. Once again, it may be early but up six games at the break and showing no signs of slowing down. The only club in the NL East with a positive run differential (+84) the Braves have the largest lead of any first place team at six games and their 29 home wins is second best in MLB. Unless they decide to move up their annual collapse from October to early September we think the division is theirs to lose. Meanwhile our horse is six games back in second place and despite some big off season signings the Nationals may be looking to do a little more before the trade deadline. The Nats are just two games above .500 and 6 back so on the surface it appears we’re being a little hard on ourselves but even at 46-44 it’s a wonder they got that far as they are almost dead last in each of the four major offensive categories, Runs (27th), Ave. (27th), On base Pct. (27th) and slugging (23rd) it’s no wonder their differential is -13. The presence of Straus this time around should be comforting down the stretch but if they don’t give him some run support it will be a frustrating finish as the Nats are still have some work to do even to climb into the wild card spot as they’re currently 4 games back of the Cards/Pirates/Reds survivor and you can bet those three clubs will be pushing each other to the end and raising the bar. In either scenario we’re in a little bit of trouble on the Nats call as well, and if they don’t not only make the playoffs but make a deep run, (besides making us look bad) they’ll be battling the ghost of the 2012-13 season that will haunt them more than a Charles Dickens novel and the decision to shut down Strausberg will continue to linger. In the AL West we thought the Angels we taking their cue from their SoCal rivals in the big city and spending the cash necessary to put a winner on the field, take the division and compete for the pennant. Adding Josh Hamilton to go along with Trout and Phat Albert the middle of that lineup looked like Boardwalk and Parkplace, and Parkplace, all with hotels on them. Even though Kendrick has been a huge welcome surprise, the fact that Hamilton (.229) and Pujols (.252) continue to struggle seem to have the halos lost in the middle of the pack a full 9 games out of first. Ironically the Angeles are in the top four of the four major offensive categories so if the big three can click all at the same time they may be in the position to make run late in the season so don’t right us off just yet. The clubs that are making us look so bad are the Rangers and A’s that have been taking turns leading the division well above the clouds and bottom three clubs. Both have a winning pct. of close to .590, second best in the AL just behind the afore mentioned Red Sox (.602) but the division runner-up may have to deal with the Rays who suddenly have gone 9-1 over their last 10, including 7 in a row ahead of the All-Star break. However the talk of the division have to be the A’s that may not completely be playing “money ball’ any longer but they sure have put a non star-studded lineup on he field but they’re delivering with timely hitting and good pitching. The Rangers look like they have just enough in tank to make another run at the brass ring. Its looking like they won’t have to worry about the Giants again this season if they can get back to the show, but the odds are against them as well as there is stiff competition but the Rangers have been a model of consistency this season with only three losing streaks of 3 games or more vs. 8 winning streaks of the same duration or longer. The second half schedule should play a little tougher, so we’ll see if Texas will be playing late into the fall again in 13’. With 92 of the 162 in the books the stretch run is sooner than you think and unless someone makes a substantial move, and rather quickly, this will be a two-horse race with both getting into the second season as the loser should still get in via the card and then all bets are off as it’s just a matter of who can get hot at the right time and maybe it will be their turn. Moving on to the AL Central, which is actually the only division we have called correctly to this point, (we shamelessly waited to do the NL West last in hopes the Dodgers caught the DBacks which didn’t quite happen) where we picked the Tigers to win the division and get back to the ALCS. 90 games into the season Detroit looks like the reincarnation of the “Lumber Company”, that Pirates team in 79’ with Parker and Stargell that went on to beat Baltimore in 7 to with the World Series, as the Tigers are in the top 3 of the four major offensive categories (1st in batting average) and have the second highest run differential (+84) in the AL. They are 2.5 games up on Cleveland and 6 on KC for the division, not a commanding lead by any stretch but if those two faded over the second half of the season it wouldn’t be a surprise to many but they have been among the best stories in MLB this year. Kansas City has recently hit a slide where they have gone 5-5 and dropped deep in the rearview mirror but they’ve been near the top most of the year. Cleveland as well dropping six of ten including 4 straight to begin the month otherwise we might not be quite so adamant in our position. A big three-game set between the two closes the first half of the season and if either puts a sweep together it may be deemed the turning point. Keep your eye on this race however, something tells us that this may be the best race coming down the stretch, but we are sticking with our pre-season pick to come out on top. Back with our NL worst call tomorrow, in the meantime catch all the MLB news, scores, and picks on the main site here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

MLB Makes the Right Call on the DBacks/Dodgers Brawl

The fallout from the D-backs/Dodgers donnybrook Tuesday night at Chavez Ravine took a while to come down the pipe from Major League Baseball’s offices to the rosters of both clubs on Friday but the powers that be seemed to get it all right. The main offender in the ruckus, Arizona starting pitcher Ian “headhunter” Kennedy as he could be now known, paid the biggest price being suspended 10 games or basically two starts. Kennedy took exception to Dodgers starter Zack Greinke accidently hitting Cody Ross on the hands with a pitch that was just off the inside of the plate in the 5th inning of the Dodgers eventual 5-3 win. A frame later, Kennedy sought retribution by throwing at the head of Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig. The pitch just missed Puig’s face, almost braking his nose and could have caused serious harm overall. The benches cleared with no punches thrown, just some angry words from many out of the Los Angeles dugout as expected. So in the top of the 7th and without hesitation, Greinke beaned Arizona catcher Miguel Montero in the back on purpose, which of course is proper baseball protocol, below the shoulders. Both managers and benches were warned with no ejections taking place. So the scrum should have ended there but didn’t. In the bottom half of the frame, Kennedy once again seeking retribution for a teammate, sent a 90 mile per hour fastball at Greinke’s head that hit the top of his left shoulder and then his helmet. That sent the Dodger players sprinting onto the field for a piece of Kennedy. The right-hander wasted no time getting over towards the Diamondbacks dugout and the protection of hitting Coach Don Baylor. What ensued was an ugly incident as tackles were made, punches were thrown and ejections eventually taking place. Dodgers hitting Coach Mark McGuire, Puig and relief pitcher Ronald Belisario were all thrown out, while Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson, Kennedy and coach Turner Ward were all booted for Arizona. For their actions in the melee, several on both sides were issued suspensions along with Kennedy the prime instigator. Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly was suspended for one game for taking down Arizona coach Alan Trammel with McGuire getting two after his raging hold of both Gibson and Diamondbacks 3rd base coach Matt Williams. Los Angeles utility man Skip Shumaker and reliever J.P. Howell both received two games for what was termed “aggressive action” during the brawl and both will appeal the decision. Belisario also will miss a game for the Dodgers, serving it on Friday. Besides Kennedy, Arizona’s Gibson has been suspended for one game with infielder Eric Hinske catching a five-game ban for his actions during the fisticuffs. Also all eight were fined, as were Greinke, Puig, Montero and Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra. All in all the punishments for Tuesday’s misfortune were in line. Had Kennedy heeded the warning of home plate umpire Clint Fagan or even hit Greinke in the leg and not the shoulder close to his head, the entire incident would have been avoided. What followed can’t be faulted on either side as both dugouts were just protecting their teammates and franchise honor. There is a code of conduct in baseball that goes back 100 years about retaliation for bean balls and it calls for payback to take place below the shoulders or in the back but not to the head. Kennedy broke baseball’s unwritten law on protecting teammates from the mound and once that happens, all bets are off and anything goes as we all saw at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday night. Many could argue with the damage he possibly could have done with the two balls thrown head-high at Puig and Greinke his penalty could have been much more severe. Because of the second head-hunter ball thrown at Greinke, the Dodgers have declared the incident is far from over. Stay tuned for the next Los Angeles – Arizona encounter on July 8th at Chase Field.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Baseball’s Players and Failures at the Quarter Season Mark

American League East The “what the hell” story of the season so far has to be the play of the New York Yankees! At 28-18 Joe Girardi’s club leads the division and sports the second best record overall in the American League. Normally, this would not even be news but considering they’ve been missing since the start of the season, Derek Jeter (ankle), Curtis Granderson (who is now back), Mark Teixeira (wrist), Alex Rodriguez (hip), Francisco Cervelli (fractured hand) and now Andy Pettitte (left trap muscle) how have the Bronx Bombers been able to stay afloat? Girardi told the New York Post, “I think I take the approach ‘it is what it is,’ and we’ll find a way to get through the day.” Well the approach from the manager is always a start but you have to have players getting it done on the field and that’s exactly what’s taking place. For starters, Robinson Cano is having an MVP type of season so far. The 2nd baseman is hitting .289 with 13 homers and 33 RBI’s. He’s gotten plenty of help from newcomer Vernon Wells who many thought was washed up. Since coming over from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim he’s hitting .287 with 10 home runs and 24 RBI’s. The 34-year-old hit just 11 homers with 20 RBI’s all of last season! The two-some have shown the way to a line-up that usually sports three or four names per game you might have heard for the first time it seems. On the hill the surprise has been Hiroki Kuroda who’s already won six games and sports an ERA of 2.76. To no one’s surprise both C.C. Sabathia and Pettitte have also picked up four victories apiece. You have to think if the Bombers can keep this up until the regular troops return, the rest of the division could be in trouble after the all-star break. While the Yanks are the division’s over-achiever, the Toronto Blue Jays have experts scratching their heads? In the off-season the Jays acquired veteran pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle as well as outfielder Emilio Bonifacio, short-stop Jose Reyes and catcher John Buck all in one-deal from the salary dumping Miami Marlins. On the free-agent market, infielder Maicer Izturis and outfielder Melky Cabrera came along in separate signings. Then the Jays made one bigger move in a trade with the Mets for reigning N.L. CY Young ace R.A. Dickey, giving up Buck and others. Combine those names with currant Blue Jay stars Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie; you have the pre-season division favorite by a long shot. Not so fast my friend! Toronto has struggled to a 19-27 record, good for last place in the division, dropping 9 games behind the Yankees already putting their post-season dreams on life-support less than two months into the season. While the Jays have three players (Encarnacion, Bautista and J.P. Arencibia) with double digit homers, overall as a team they rank 10th in team batting in the American League with a run differential of -43, second worst in the A.L. On the mound, Dickey is just 4-5 overall with a 4.50 ERA, while Johnson is on the disabled list(0-1, 6.86 ERA) and Buerhle struggles continue with a record of just 1-3 and an earned run average of 5.90. How dire is the Blue Jays situation even though there is still three-fourths of the season to play? To reach the 93 win total, which was good enough for one A.L. wild-card spot last season, the Jays would have to play about .650 baseball the rest of the way. That is nothing to tweet about, saying the least. American League Central The Central right now is a two-team affair between the favored Detroit Tigers and the Terry Francona led Cleveland Indians who lead by a half a game. We’ve seen this movie before however. Two seasons ago heading into late May, the Tribe led the Central by six games. They finished 15 games behind the first-place Tigers. Just about a year ago, the Indians led the Central by 21/2 games. They finished 20 back of the first place Tigers. So why should this marathon dance be any different? It’s all about Francona and the cast of characters he orchestrates. Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and utility man Ryan Raburn are all veterans of division race baseball and so far have shown the Cleveland youngsters how to handle pressure situations, even early in the season. The Indians had won 18 of their last 22 games before dropping their last two against whom else, the Tigers. The latest battle pushed the season series to 3-2 Detroit after the Indians had won two of three in Motown earlier in the year. The former Boston manager, who led the Sox to titles in 2004 and 2007, knows he’s playing with “house money” as the underdog in this race. His veteran leadership will keep the pressure off his team, as its Detroit with all the big names and payroll in the line-up and is the club that needs to respond after being swept in the World Series last year. The Tigers are the reigning American League champs and the favorite to capture the Central again with a powerful offense that hasn’t disappointed so far. Their run differential of +55 is by far the best in the A.L. and third to only the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds is all of baseball. But one big difference for Motown is on the mound as ace Justin Verlander has been far from dominant so far in 2013. At 5-4 he’s not the unbeatable presence he’s been the past two regular seasons. Max Scherzer however has taken his place. He’s 6-0 with a team leading 62.1 innings pitched and a solid 3.61 ERA, second behind 4-4 Anibal Sanchez. Throw in 5-1 Doug Fister into the rotation and this is where the Tigers definitely hold the advantage over the Indians. Their starting rotation right now is slightly better than the Indians but over the course of 162 should separate itself if Verlander rounds back into routine form. Francona will have to continue to push all the right bottoms to avoid the Tribe falling off for a third straight season. American League West In the west, Rangers manager Ron Washington is up to his old tricks again with the help of some solid off-season decisions by general manager Jon Daniels, at least so far. After ending last season losing the first American League Wild Card play-in game, the club decided over the winter to let Josh Hamilton and his 43 home runs and 128 RBI’s sign with division rival Anaheim. They also let slugging catcher Mike Napoli move on to Boston as a free agent. They then traded disgruntled all-time leader in games played and hits, third baseman Michael Young to the Phillies. Those moves haven’t hurt the Rangers a quarter of the way thru the season. Texas leads the west by 5.5 games over Oakland which is the largest gap of any first place team in baseball. They’ve achieved this lead with pitching depth. Despite Neftali Feliz, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando all on the disabled list, the Rangers simply keep on rolling behind ace Yu Darvish and its bull pen. Darvish is off to a 7-2 start with an ERA of 2.84. The Rangers have gotten great middle relief work from newcomers Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers while closer Joe Nathan hasn’t blown a save in 14 attempts. Texas lead all of the American League in team ERA at 3.48 despite having no complete games this season. Offensively the Rangers continue to slam with the best of them behind the usual suspects. Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland all have double digit homers and have combined for 86 runs batted in. On the other end of this high performance story lies Hamilton’s new team the Angels. As of this writing after winning four straight, Los Angeles still remains 10.5 games back and is getting close to the point of no return as far as the division title is concerned. The biggest problem for Mike Scioscia’s club has been the absence of ace Jered Weaver. The right-hander, who has been on the disabled list since fracturing his elbow on April 7th, could return to the rotation next week against the So Cal rival Dodgers after a solid rehab start in Arizona this week. This will clearly help a rotation that is near the bottom of the league in ERA at 4.59, allowing 228 runs and who’s leader right now C.J. Wilson is sitting at 4-3 overall, despite eight quality starts. Offense is just as big of a culprit as the lack of starting pitching. The 7th highest payroll in the majors has brought the Halos only the eighth best offensive numbers in the A.L. Hamilton is hitting just .225 with 6 homers while Albert Pujols isn’t much better at .253 with 7 bombs. Mike Trout’s sudden outburst over the last week has given the Angels faithful hope as he’s hitting .297 and leading the team with 34 RBI’s. While catching Texas and Oakland for a shot at the division seem improbable, there is still time to make a wild-card run if the Angels play lights out the rest of the way. If they don’t Scioscia’s 13 seasons as the Halo’s manager, the longest tenure in baseball will most likely come to an end. National League East What more can you say about the Atlanta Braves then, wow! The ATL is the class of the division despite the Washington Nationals being the favorite to win the east. Home is where the heart is for the Braves and they love Turner Field. At 28-18 overall, 15 of those wins have come in front of the home faithful making their 15-5 home mark the best in the majors overall. Offense has been the overriding factor in the Braves early success. Atlanta’s +44 run differential, makes the Braves the only team in the division in the green in that category. There 4.5 game lead over the Nats can be placed upon the bat of off-season trade acquisition Justin Upton. With 14 homers, 28 RBI’s and 95 total bases, he would be the National League MVP if they voted today. He leads the Braves in all offensive categories on a team that is fifth overall in the N.L. offensively. On the hill they’re also fifth with a team ERA of 3.35 allowing a league low of 160 runs. Mike Minor has emerged as the ace with Craig Kimbrel 14 of 15 in save opportunities. It will be interesting however to see if the Braves can keep it up on the hill as serious injuries have put a dent in their bull pen. Jonny Venters is done for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery last Thursday and Eric O’Flaherty is also done for the season after tearing a ligament in his throwing elbow as well. With that news in mind the Nationals lurk in the shadows. This is despite their bullpen sporting an ERA of 4.21 which is 22nd overall in the majors. That comes as a surprise considering the Nats pen has only worked 126 innings which is only the 24th highest total in the majors overall. Washington’s starters led by Gio Gonzalez, Steven Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman who is 7-2 overall, have the sixth best ERA in the N.L. at 3.53. Don’t expect that reliever situation to go away soon with Ross Detwiler dealing with an oblique strain and Ryan Mattheus on the shelf after punching a locker and breaking his hand. Offensively beside Bryce Harper it’s been a struggle for Washington. They are 13th in the league in offense with just 159 runs scored. Their team batting average of .225 and OPS of .653 are at the bottom of the league. Lucky for Davey Johnson there is still plenty of time for their bats to wake up because that is the only way they will catch the offensive minded Braves. National League Central The Central seems to be the same old story year in and year out? The Cardinals and Reds battling for supremacy with the Pirates fighting hard before the eventual fade into sub .500 ball. At 30-16 St. Louis sports the best record in the majors with Cincinnati on their wings just 1.5 out. The Bucs start May 23rd two back but with signs the ship is already leaking. Pittsburgh has nowhere near the starting pitching of either the Cards or Reds, so to keep up, they’ll have to do if offensively. Well despite their small deficit in the division they’re offensive production is already well behind the other two. St. Louis sports a +59 run differential with the Reds right behind at +57. Pittsburgh however is at +21 already, so what’s going to happen further into the year when the Bucs pitching really slows down? The usual nose dive, which is going to make the race a two-teamer by the Central rivals. Right now the Pirates pitching is second best in the N.L. with a 3.27 ERA. Wandy Rodriguez leads the way a 5-2. The Bucs are 6-2 in their meetings with St. Louis and Cincy which explains their position in the division, but expect those match-ups to go the other way the further the season moves on. The Red Birds are the second highest team hitting for average behind only the Giants. Combine that with the balance of a 3.16 team ERA and it’s no wonder they sport the best record in the league. As a matter of fact the Reds are also right there at 3.31 in third place ERA wise behind both their Central division foes and that’s with number one starter Jonny Cueto finally back in action after missing six starts with a strained back muscle. Offensively, Cincinnati is actually in front of St. Louis in runs scored and OPS. While the Central is a three pony show a quarter of the way home, by the time August rolls around the teams fighting for the division crown will both wear the same color, red. National League West The story in the West is the story of the team that is under-achieving, that being the Los Angeles Dodgers. At 19-26 overall the boys in Blue find themselves six games back of the Giants, Diamondbacks and Rockies all sharing the division lead. It’s not so much the deficit that has Don Mattingly’s job on the line which seems like every day now, but how the 26 losses have occurred. Last week in Atlanta the Dodgers were swept by the Braves after leading late into each game as the bull pen collapsed three times. It seems every move Mattingly made it backfired. Those things can’t happen when your team sports the highest payroll in baseball at over 216-million dollars. While closer Brandon League, and relievers Kenley Jansen and Ronald Belisario are all to blame with their terrible play as of late the Dodgers bigger issue lay on offense. Despite having one of the league’s best team hitting averages, Los Angeles is second to last in the N.L. in front of only the Miami Marlins in hitting average with runners in scoring position. Sluggers Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are to blame, driving home just 17 and 15 runs respectively. The Dodgers run differential is a horrible -32 which is worst in the division. The only reason Mattingly probably hasn’t been giving the hook yet is because the Dodgers have been hit incredible hard with injuries. Number two pitcher Zach Greinke made just his second start since recovering from a broken collarbone. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez has played in just four games due to a broken thumb and now strained hamstring. Mark Ellis just returned to action off the disabled list from a strained quad muscle. So while the Dodgers slowly get their starters back in the line-up, the pressure on their manager has increased to the point where he called out Ethier, benching him for the series finale in Milwaukee which the Dodgers won 9-2 taking the series 2 out of 3, probably saving Mattingly’s job for the next week. The good news for the Dodgers is Kemp seems to be finally recovering from off-season shoulder surgery which has affected his hitting and power. Ramirez is due off the disabled list in two weeks and they only trail the leaders by six, while maintaining the best one, two, three starting pitcher combination in the division in Clayton Kershaw, Greinke and Hung Jin Ryu. While the Giants offensively might be the class of the division right now, they are far from the pitching power that won them World Series titles in 2010 and 2012. Ryan Vogelsong is out for most likely two months with a broken bone in his pitching hand and Madison Bumgarner is the only starter that has been overly consistent. Barry Zito has an ERA of 3.91 due to starting the season red hot, Tim Lincecum is at 4.70 and ace Matt Cain is worse at 5.12. With the Giants built for pitching and not hitting in AT&T Park if the pitching doesn’t work its way back to its previous high standards, San Francisco will fade. No one expects the Rockies to maintain their spot at the top with their rotation but their offense at Coors Field could keep them close while the Arizona Diamondbacks are for real. Kirk Gibson has molded his team into a hardnosed group that has decent starting pitching and sufficient offense. About the only for sure thing in the west is that nobody will run away with the division. Even the low-budget San Diego Padres are only 4.5 games out at this point in the season. Expect this race to involve all five teams into August which should make for some exciting fall baseball on the West Coast.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Quentin Charges the Mound, Dodgers may Charge Quentin

While tobacco use, dirty dugouts along with sweaty jocks and foul language are obvious clues pro baseball is the opposing end of the manners code, as to say golf, there is still a code of rules big leaguers play by. At Petco Park on Thursday night that rule book was thrown out and stomped on by San Diego Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin. In a 2-1 game that happened to be in the bottom of the 6th inning with the Los Angeles Dodgers ahead, starting pitcher Zack Greinke’s 3-2 pitch, found the inside of the plate. That’s the part of the batter’s box where Quentin is notorious for crowding. How notorious? Well he was hit by pitches 17 times last season while playing in just 86 games due to injury and the season before in the American League he was beaned 23 times despite playing in just 118 games, tops in major league baseball. So, Greinke’s offering found Quentin on the arm, not the head, not the neck, not between the shoulder blades of his back. Taking into consideration the stage of the game and the location of the contact, this was not an intentional beaning. But because Quentin and Greinke have history together (Greinke hit him three previous times in the American League), Quentin threw out all logic concerning the circumstances of the contest and rushed the mound. The result was a shoulder to shoulder blow that left Greinke with a fractured left collarbone, the benches and bullpens cleared and numerous ejections. Once the bodies were separated and the dust settled. The Dodgers right-handed ace who inked a 147-million dollar deal in the off-season to be the number two of L.A.’s 1-2 elite pitching punch with Clayton Kershaw will now miss at least six weeks or possibly two months! We could be looking at anywhere from six to twelve overall starts. Needless to say, this throws a serious wrench into the Dodgers plans of trying to win the National League West in 2013. How outlandish was Quentin’s choice of taking matters into his own hands or fist? Well, other pitchers like Nick Blackburn, Eric Bedard and Jon Lester have all hit him just as many times in their careers. Also, the majors have practically eliminated brawls compared to 20 or 30 years ago, when they took place almost weekly in the big leagues. In other words there isn’t a place for them in the modern game with huge salaries and enormous payrolls like the Dodgers. Quentin’s actions and the result that followed is by far the worst bench clearing incident in several years, (there were none during the 2012 season). So what should be the consequences for going after a pitcher despite all the signs showing he wasn’t trying to intentionally throw at a hitter? The most recent suspensions for charging the mound didn’t reach double-digit games. In 2010, Nyjer Morgan received eight games. Coco Crisp got seven games in 2008 and Richie Sexson was suspended for six in 2008. However, none of those incidents resulted in an injury as serious as Greinke’s broken collarbone. Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly last night made plenty of sense despite his level of anger, giving his determination of what should happen to the Padres mound charger. “That’s just stupid is what it is. He should not play a game until Greinke can pitch. If he plays before Greinke pitches, something’s wrong. He caused the whole thing. Nothing happens if he goes to first base.” While most Dodger fans will echo Mattingly’s sentiment, no way Quentin will be missing from the Padres line-up card for maybe two months. Ironically, that should have been closer to what he should have received as opposed to the 8-game suspension the league handed down on Friday evening. In a case like Thursday’s incident where it strongly appears the pitcher did not attempt to throw at the hitter, mound chargers must be penalized to the fullest. Teams pay too much money as do the fans for the game’s top talent to be heading to the disabled list like Greinke now, over a spur of the moment, anger induced decision to rush the mound. That’s not Major League Baseball code and it needs to be treated that way sending a message for the good of the game.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Time for April Madness - Our MLB Preview - National League

Washington Nationals – 2012 Record 98-64 (1st in NL East) The long off season for the Nats of… what if, is now over. The what if of course being the pre-mature shut down of ace Steven Strasburg for the post-season coming off arm surgery the previous year. Washington was upset in the divisional series against the Cardinals in a set they basically had won until the final inning of game seven. That however is the past and the future is bright on the diamond in the nation’s capital. With the return of Strasburg the Nats have arguably the best starting staff in the east. Gio Gonzalez is back from a 21 win season. He is joined by Jordan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler and newcomer Dan Haren. This staff sported the best ERA in the National League last year and could be better in 2013. Strasburg should make a run at the NL CY Young Award. A solid infield of Kurt Suzuki/Wilson Ramos behind the plate, Adam LaRoche at first rounded out with Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman all return with a full year under their belts as a unit. Zimmerman did undergo off-season arm surgery on his throwing arm, so they’ll keep an eye out on him in the hot corner. Desmond and Espinosa are potential 20/20 guys at the plate and on the bases, while LaRoche and Zimmerman supply the pop after combining for 58 homers in 2012. Future superstar Bryce Harper of course will be holding down leftfield with a year of experience in the show. He’ll be joined by off-season acquisition Denard Span in center and veteran Jayson Werth in right field. Besides the Braves the Nats have the next best outfield in the division. Span is a solid glove with good leadoff skills in the box. Werth can drive the ball to all areas of the outfield and Harper is coming off a 22 homer season with 18 stolen bases and he’s only 20! Look for a possible 35-homer season from the youngster in 2013. As far as the bullpen goes, Washington only got stronger with the addition of Rafael Soriano. TWIB Notes: The addition of Soriano gives manager Davy Johnson more options with a pen that some considered a weakness last season. Tyler Clippard was one of the league’s best set-up men in 2012 with 38 holds while Drew Storen saved 43 games as the closer in 2011 but now can be used in middle relief with Soriano taking over the role as the 9th inning closer. The Nationals have no weaknesses on paper and that’s why they are our pick to win the division for a second straight season. Atlanta Braves- 2012 Record 94-68 (2nd in NL East) The post-season and the career of Braves legend Chipper Jones came to an abrupt end in 2012 with a wild-card series loss to the Cardinals. The loss of Jones will be huge in the Atlanta clubhouse not to mention third base as well, as will the trading of team leader Martin Prado to the Arizona Diamondbacks. But like the Nationals, Atlanta sports one of the best pitching staffs in the National League. Veterans Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm will give the staff ERA numbers in the 3.00 range and possibly 200 innings of work. Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran are the wild card as far as potential goes. Medlen has the makings of an ace after he posted a 0.97 ERA in his final 12 starts of the season last year. Minor was another bright spot with a 2.16 ERA in 14 starts. Brian McCann once again is behind the dish with slugger Freddie Freeman at first, Dan Uggla who struggled in 2012 at second, newcomer Andrelton Simmons taking over full-time duties at short with the combination of Juan Francisco/Chris Johnson at third. Many believe Simmons might be the best fielding shortstop in the game in 2013. Atlanta’s outfield is a fun one indeed! The Prado trade brought centerfielder Justin Upton from Arizona to be joined by brother B.J. in left. Add in future superstar in the making Jason Heyward and outfields don’t get more talented than this! All three have 30/30 potential at the plate and on the bases and above average gloves in the outfield. As far as the bullpen goes, only the Reds sported a better ERA last season. The big name is closer Craig Kimbrel. He struck out half the hitters he faced in 2012, while holding hitters to an amazing .358 OPS. Setting him up are lefties Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Luis Avilan. Right handed relief comes from Jordan Walden, Cory Gearrin, Cristhian Martinez and Anthony Varvaro. TWIB Notes: The Upton brothers could have the best season in the box on the same team since Paul and Lloyd Waner played together with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1920’s and 30’s. Also the heat could be on Manager Freddie Gonzalez in 2013. Remember he endured the collapse of 2011 and then last year’s wild-card disappointment against St. Louis. The Braves need to win a playoff series come fall or his job could be in jeopardy. Philadelphia Phillies- 2012 Record 81-81 (3rd in NL East) To say 2012 was a huge disappointment for the Fighting Phils is like saying Philadelphia has a lot of places to enjoy a good cheesesteak! Injuries to Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz were the main reason Charlie Manual’s team missed the post-season for the first time since the 2006 season. This will most likely be old Charlie boy’s final season at the age of 69, so the Phils are looking to send him out with a bang! Of course with the Phils it’s all about the pitching, which could be a concern if you’ve watched any spring training action concerning ace Roy Halladay. He was hurt for a big part of last season and has returned this spring with subpar stuff and a whopping 6.75 ERA to match. That’s why Cole Hamels will be the opening day starter followed up by Halladay, the reliable Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick who sported a 3.89 ERA as a starter in 2012 and former National John Lannan in the fifth spot. While Carlos Ruiz serves his 25-game drug suspension, Erik Kratz will do the catching. It will be interesting to see what kind of numbers Ruiz puts up after coming off whatever the actual substance was from last season. Howard should be back in full swing off the Achilles Injury from the 2011 playoffs. Utley, like Howard has had a terrific spring so they could combine for 55 homers. Jimmy Rollins is now on the downside of his career at short and coming off a down year, while Michael Young comes over from the Texas Rangers at third after an awful 2012 season so he is indeed a wildcard at the hot corner both in the field and at the plate. The outfield will be flanked by five-tool player Domonic Brown, steady glove man Ben Revere in centerfield and the platoon of John Mayberry/Lance Nix until Delmon Young who came over from Detroit is ready to go after offseason ankle surgery which might not be until sometime in mid-April according to the Philadelphia Daily News. In the pen, the closer again is Jonathan Papelbon with Antonio Bastardo and Mike Adams as the primary set-up men. Chad Durbin, Phillipe Aumont, Jeremy Horst, Raul Valdes and Michael Stutes round out the rest of the relievers. TWIB Notes: Gone from this team are some key contributors in Placido Polanco, pitcher Vance Worley and outfielder Juan Pierre. Ryne Sandberg takes over as the Phils third base coach as he continues to be groomed to take over for Manual most likely next season. This group will have to fight to just grab a wild-card spot or miss the post-season for the second straight season. Both Washington and Atlanta are superior in all aspects of the game. New York Mets- 2012 record 74-88 (4th in NL East) Gone is NL CY Young winner R.A. Dickey and with Johan Santana starting the year on the disabled list, things don’t bode well for the “not so amazings” on the mound. Jon Niese is the de facto ace and opening day starter, after posting an ERA of 3.40 in 30 starts last season. Shaun Marcum will follow him up most likely while Matt Harvey, Dillion Gee and Jeremy Hefner round out the starters for now. Expect top prospect Zack Wheeler to make his big league debut at some point after sporting a 3.26 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A in 2012. John Buck who came over in the Dickey trade will handle the duties behind the plate for now until top prospect Travis d’Arnaud is ready to play every day. Ike Davis returns at first with Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada and David Wright rounding out the infield. Wright of course was hurt in the WBC playing for the United States but could be ready by opening day. His .306 average with 21 homers is a must for the Mets to just be competitive in a tough division. Both Murphy and Tejada could possibly be .300 hitters and will need to for the Mets to just hang around for a while. The outfield is up for grabs with Lucas Duda getting the start in left despite his tendency to strike out. Collin Cowgill could start in center with Marlon Byrd in right. Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter will also see time in arguably the least proven outfield in the majors this season. When the Mets do have a late lead, Bobby Parnell will try to seal the deal, as this bullpen looks to regroup after an ERA of 4.65 last year, second worst in the majors next to the Brewers. Frank Francisco, Josh Edgin, Robert Carson, Jeurys Familia, Brandon Lyon, Greg Burke and LaTroy Hawkins are all fighting to make the big league roster along with Scott Atchison. TWIB Notes: You have to almost feel sorry for manager Terry Collins. In his third season since replacing Jerry Manuel he could be gone by mid-season but would it really be fair? If you look at the pitching prospects and outfield situation this roster is by far the worst in the division so what’s a manager supposed to do? Miami Marlins - 2012 Record 69-93(5th in NL East) Last season’s debacle along with Ozzie Guillen’s ridiculous statements about Fidel Castro cost him his job after just one season of a four-year contract. So Mike Redmond tries to pick up the pieces after two years as a Class-A manager in the Blue Jays system. Lots of new faces on the field for the Marlins this season, after the front office purged the roster to save money. Ricky Nolasco will be the club’s so called ace, followed by Wade LeBlanc for Dodgers prospect Nate Eovaldi and youngsters Henderson Alverez and Jacob Turner who could actually end up back in the minors after a rough spring, according to the Palm Beach Post. Catching the fresh-faced rotation will be Rob Brantly, who started 31 games last season. Logan Morrison is back in the starting line-up at first with Donovan Solano at second, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and newcomer and solid contact hitter Placido Polanco at third. The outfield does sport power-hitter Giancarlo Stanton (37 homer in 2012) in right and veteran and solid glove man Juan Pierre in left. Justin Ruggiano is the starting centerfielder for now after hitting .313 with 13 homers and 14 steals last season. Steve Cishek gets the closers spot after posting a 2.69 ERA overall last season. Ryan Webb, Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos and Dan Jennings will all be on the roster to start the season as young but up and coming relievers. TWIB Notes: 2013 Is all about finding the right prospects at the right price for the Marlins organization. The danger however is how long will it take for the fickle fan base to start not showing up in just the second season of that brand new beautiful but publicly funded ballpark? No one likes to watch last place baseball which is definitely where the Marlins are headed this season. It is truly a rebuilding year in South Florida.
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