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.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Now it’s time for April Madness - MLB Preview - American League

AL West Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - 2012 Record 89-73 (3rd AL West) Like their Southern California counterparts the Dodgers, the Angels went big in the free agent market. While they lost Zack Greinke to the Dodgers and Torii Hunter to Detroit, they picked up the free-agent hitting prize of the winter in Josh Hamilton of the Rangers and right-handed pitcher Jason Vargas from Seattle. The former AL-MVP gives an already stacked line-up another dimension of power and speed. Check out the way the Halos line-up! Albert Pujols will man 1B of course and while he finished up with 30 HR, 105 RBI and a .285 average last season, don’t expect the same slow start this time around. Howie Kendrick remains at 2B coming of a .287 average in 2012 with 158 hits (second most on the team). Erick Aybar and his solid glove skills are back at SS. Alberto Callaspo once again sits at the hot corner with Chris Ianetta behind the plate. Mark Trumbo (DH) brings his big bat back to Anaheim (32 HR, 95 RBI) as the Angels have four projected 25 HR hitters in their line-up. The two others are Hamilton in RF and Mike Trout who moves from center to left in 2013 with the addition of the speedy Peter Bourjos as the everyday centerfielder. From top to bottom to bottom on paper, this is the best hitting line-up in the American League and arguably in baseball period. The big question for the Halos is whether or not the starting pitching will hold up its end of the deal? Ace Jered Weaver, a 20-game winner in 2012 is expected to be dominant again but can lefty C.J. Wilson (13-10 in 2012) regain the form that made him a top free agent two winters ago? Tommy Hanson takes over the third spot, coming from Atlanta in the trade for reliever Jordan Walden. Former Seattle Mariner Jason Vargas slides in as the number four with Joe Blanton taking the fifth spot after spending last year with the Dodgers. The Angels bullpen could be the overall weakness of the squad. Ryan Madson is scheduled to be the new closer but recent elbow soreness after coming off Tommy John surgery last April has his status in question. Ernesto Frieri saved 23 games last season and will step in for Madson until he’s good to go. Lefties Scott Downs and Sean Burnett will be the key set-up men but until Madson is back healthy the Angels have bullpen issues. However the offense is big, bad and bold enough to still make us believe the Angels can outscore the opposition enough to win games until the bullpen settles in and that’s why the Halos are our pick to live up to the hype and capture the AL West crown. TWIB Notes: Maybe the MLB schedule makers really believe these Angels have wings? The Halos have six trips to Texas in 2013 and not once do they play both the Texas Rangers and new AL West member Houston Astros on the same journey. Talk about frequent flyer miles! Oakland Athletics- 2012 Record 94-68 (1st AL West) Before you start talking about the 2013 A’s, you have to mention the 2012 A’s! How in the heck did General Manager Billy Beane and Manager Bob Melvin make a division winner out of a team that was picked to finish last? Some key player decisions and 14 walk-off victories that’s how! After shocking the baseball world, Oakland will not be sneaking up on anyone this season. Newcomer Jed Lowrie joins this wild bunch at 3B after coming over from the Astros in exchange for outfielder Chris Carter. Lowrie will play the hot corner with Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima the starting SS at least for now after a tough Cactus League spring that saw him hit just .167 in 17 games, also committing four errors. Scott Sizemore is back at 2B coming off a torn ACL, with last season’s surprise Brandon Moss returning at 1B after a season in which he hit 21 HR’s after coming up from Triple-A Sacramento. Newcomer veteran John Jaso gets the catching duties with Seth Smith as the DH. The outfield is loaded as Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes returns for his sophomore season after his 23 HR, 82 RBI performance in just 129 games. Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick repeat in center and right, not to mention Oakland added outfielder Chris Young from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the trade for Cliff Pennington, so things are crowded with competition. After 2012’s inspiring, overachieving and miraculous season, can the young pitching continue on, or will it take a step backwards? Brett Anderson is supposed to be the ace of the staff after going 4-2 last year with a 2.57 ERA coming off Tommy John surgery. He’s only thrown 118.1 innings over the last two seasons. Number two man Jarrod Parker sports a 92 mph fastball and recorded a 2.96 ERA for the first half of last season before slumping in July and August. He did however rally to go 4-1 over 41 innings with a 2.63 ERA in September and October. Tommy Milone needs to battle his road demons in the number three spot. He gave up 18 bombs away from the Oakland Coliseum last year. A.J. Griffin went 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 15 starts is a wild-card along with youngster Dan Straily and veteran Bartolo Colon who is coming off that 50-game suspension season for the use of PED’s. To say he’ll repeat his 3.43 ERA from 2012 is quite a stretch. Grant Balfour is solid as the closer after last season’s 24 saves and 15 holds in 74.2 innings pitched. Ryan Cook appeared in 71 games in middle relief sporting a 2.09 ERA. Other contributors are Jeremy Blevins, Chris Resop, Pat Neshek and Sean Doolittle. TWIB Notes: After a 33-13 finish from August 15th to the end of the season the A’s carry major mojo and momentum into 2013. The expectations are high and we see them finding their way to at least 87 victories which will be good enough for second in the division and a wild-card berth in the American League. Texas Rangers- 2012 Record 93-69 (2nd Place AL West) The biggest collapse in Texas since the oil bust of the 1980’s caused the end of the Rangers marriage to former MVP Josh Hamilton who signed with the Angels. Also gone is longtime 3B Michael Young, so where does Texas go after back to back World Series loses and an early wild-card game departure which came from blowing a five-game division lead with just nine to play in 2012? Well, the Rangers are still strong but everyone else in the west got stronger. Both 2B Ian Kinsler (19 HR, 72 RBI, 21 steals) and SS Elvis Andrus (.286 ave. 62 RBI, 21 steals) are back to shore up the Rangers defense up the middle along with setting the table rather nicely at the plate. Adrian Beltre hopes to build off another monstrous year in which he racked up 36 HR with 102 RBIs with a .321 average to boost. Mitch Moreland once again handles 1B most likely in fulltime basis, despite the fact he has trouble versus southpaws. A.J. Pierzynski came over in free-agency to take over behind the plate. He’s riding a career season in Chicago at the age of 35! He hit .278 with a career-high 27 HR and 77 RBI. Lance Berkman is back after only playing in 32 games last season due to injury. The season before he blasted 31 long balls and that’s the Berkman Nolan Ryan is hoping returns in 2013 in the DH role. Centerfielder Nelson Cruz is playing in a contract year, so expect numbers similar to his 45 doubles, 90 RBI and 24 homers from 2012. David Murphy moves into a permanent starting role in LF this season and Leonys Martin appears ready to be the everyday center fielder with Hamilton gone. The Texas rotation might be the best in the division. Lefty Derek Holland hopes to bounce back from last year’s 12-7 mark to winning 16 games like the previous season. He’s backed up by AL CY Young candidate Yu Darvish. He finished his rookie season with a bang over the final two months of the season, ending up with a 16-9 record and an ERA of 3.90 with 221 k’s. Matt Harrison is coming off a career-high of 18 wins in 2012, while Alexis Ogando returns to the rotation after spending last season in the bullpen. Rounding out the starters is Nick Tepesch who wins by default with lefty Martin Perez the club’s top pitching prospect and veteran Colby Lewis on the disabled list to start the year. Veteran closer Joe Nathan returns as a force in the closers role after saving 37 last season. Former Kansas City closer Joakim Soria will be his main set-up man out of the pen. TWIB Notes: 43 HR and 128 RBI are the offensive numbers the Rangers lose with Hamilton jetting off to Southern California in the off-season. Some feel with the way last season ended, he’d worn out his welcome with both management and the fan base. Expect a more collected effort from the remaining veterans on this squad but it will only be good enough for third in the division. Seattle Mariners- 2012 Record 75-87 (4th AL West) It’s been 12 seasons since the Seattle Mariners made a post-season appearance. They aren’t planning on winning the division in 2013 but are planning on improving baseball’s worst offense from a year ago and being ultra-competitive this year. One of the big off-season moves the M’s made was trading for first baseman Kendrys Morales in exchange for pitcher Jason Vargas. His OPS of .900 in August and .829 in September and October combined could be signs of his full return after an injury plagued 2012. At 3B Kyle Seager, the team’s most productive hitter last season returns after hitting .259 with 20 homers and 86 RBI. Brendan Ryan only hit .194 in 2012 which is a problem but he could be called the major’s best defensive shortstop last season. Dustin Ackley is back as the second-part of the double-play tandem. His .226 average however was also part of Seattle’s offensive woes. Youngster Jesus Montero blasted 15 dingers in his first full season behind the plate. The organization sees him as one of their, can’t miss stars of the future. Raul Ibanez takes over the DH role after a season in which he might have been the Yankees most clutch performer at the plate. In the outfield, Seattle needs a full season from CF Franklin Gutierrez. Injuries limited him to just 163 at bats in 2011 and only 344 in 2012 due to a stomach condition. Michael Morse returns to the Emerald City after blossoming as a player with the Washington Nationals. Even in an injury plagued 2012 campaign, he still hit .291 with 18 homers and 62 RBI in just 102 games. Michael Sanders racked 19 HR at the plate as the everyday right fielder. He’ll be asked to at least repeat those numbers this season. Of course the big off-season news with the M’s was the resigning of King Felix! Felix Hernandez signed a 7-year, $175 million dollar deal. The 2010 AL CY Young winner is now the face of the franchise after adding a perfect game to his resume last season. Next in line will be Hisashi Iwakuma, who is coming off a record of 8-4 with a 2.50 ERA over his last 15 starts in 2012. Joe Sanders played with Baltimore and Arizona last year and the M’s hope he can be more consistent than his 9-13 record last year. Mariner second year right handers Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan, round out the rest of the Seattle starters. After Brandon League was demoted last May, Tom Wilhelmsen took over the closer role, converting 29-0f-34 save opportunities. He also finished with 87 k’s in 79.1 innings. Setting him up will be fireball hurler Carter Capps (110 mph heat) and Stephen Pryor who posted a 3.91 ERA last season. TWIB Notes: In order to help the offensive production for the Mariners at Safeco Field, the fences have been moved in, anywhere from four to 17 feet. No doubt Seattle will be better than 75 victories from a year ago. But with the rest of the division tougher, we can see them finishing any higher than 4th in the west. Houston Astros- 2012 Record 55-107 (6th NL Central) After earning the ominous reputation as baseball worst team last season, the Astros hope the move from the National League Central to the American League West brings them good fortune if not at least better luck. Houston has been saddled by first a 56 win season in 2011 and then last year’s 55 victories to make matters worse. New manager Bo Porter hopes to bring stability to the dugout in a time of transition and little fan patient at Minute Maid Park as the organization plans to build through the draft, farm system and not free agency. The always hustling Jose Altuve returns to his leadoff spot and 2B. He hit .290 last season to go with 33 steals. Joining him up the middle is Tyler Greene who played with both St. Louis and Houston last year. He possesses a little pop in his bat with 11 HR in just 305 at bats in 2012. Brett Wallace returns to 1B after belting nine homers in just 229 big league plate appearances, while jacking 16 deep balls in 86 Triple-A games in 2012. Newcomer Matt Dominguez takes over at the hot corner as another up and comer from within the organization. Jason Castro C showed promise after hitting .281 over the course of the season’s final 61 games. Veteran Carlos Pena will handle the DH duties after playing in 160 games with Tampa Bay, despite putting up an average of just .197 with 19 dingers. Chris Carter comes in as a big name after being traded from the A’s in the off-season. The LF had a .514 SLG percentage with 16 long balls in just 218 at bats with Oakland. Roaming centerfield is Justin Maxwell who led the team in HR with 18 and was second in RBI driving in 53 while playing in a career high 124 games. Newcomer Fernando Martinez gets the full-time gig in right, after splitting time in 2012 between the Astros and Triple-A Oklahoma City. On the mound the rotation’s number one man is Bud Norris. He’s struggled in three seasons on the major league level with a record of 22-34 with a 4.41 ERA. These are not good numbers for the so called “ace” of the staff. Lucas Harrell hopes to build on a season in 2012 where he went 11-11 and was named as the organizations “Pitcher of the Year”. Jordan Lyles made 25 starts in 2012 and is expected to be vastly improved. The veterans of the staff are Philip Humber who threw a perfect game last year while with the Chicago White Sox. However after that bright spot he finished just 5-5 with a 6.44 ERA over 16 starts and 10 relief appearances. Lefty Erik Bedard started 24 games with Pittsburgh last season and if nothing else brings experience to the Stros youth movement on the hill. Out of the bullpen comes Jose Veras from Milwaukee where he’ll be the Houston closer. Getting the ball in his hands will be the job of Xavier Cedeno, who didn’t allow a run in 16 of his final 17 games to close the year out. Hector Ambriz comes out of the pen with future promise as well. TWIB Notes: The last time a team switched leagues in the majors was 1998 when the Milwaukee Brewers left the AL Central for the NL Central. The result in that first year; the Brew Crew went from third in the former to fifth in the latter while winning 78 and 74 games, respectively. Don’t expect Houston to come close to 70 wins as a fifth place finish in their new division is worth a solid wager. AL Central Detroit Tigers-2012 Record 88-74 (1st Place AL Central) Most baseball analyst believe the American League Central is the Tiger’s world and everyone else is just on the 162 day menu! Last season Jim Leyland’s squad won 88 games in the regular season, withstood the A’s in the ALDS, and swept the Derek Jeter missing Yankees in the ALCS, before laying an egg against the underdog Giants in the World Series. The only major departures from that team were Delmon Young and Jose Valverde, who both encountered down years. So a 90 win season is the projection and here’s why. Detroit arguably has the best rotation in baseball. Despite a terrible fall classic, Justin Verlander is still Justin Verlander. After winning the CY Young two seasons ago and coming close last season, you can only expect the best from the American League’s top righty again. But the rest of the rotation is top-notch as well. Doug Fister is a strong number two, followed by Max Scherzer led baseball in strikeout rate last season, not to mention a 15-4 record with a 3.14 ERA after a tough start in April. Follow that up with Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello and you know why the Tigers are once again our top pick to repeat in the Central. In the infield, the Tigers once again sport two of the game’s premier sluggers on the corners with Prince Fielder at 1B and Miguel Cabrera at 3B. Behind the plate, Alex Avila will be looking to return to his 2011 form of .295 with 19 home runs and 82 RBI. The middle infield is solid again with Omar Infante at 2B and Jhonny Peralta at SS. By the way, Victor Martinez returns from a knee injury which caused him to miss all of last season. He’ll replace the departure of Delmon Young at DH. The free-agent signing of Torii Hunter highlights the Tigers outfield. He’ll be joined by Austin Jackson in CF and Andy Dirks in LF. The bullpen is the only question mark in Motown and that’s because of the departure of closer Jose Valverde. He wasn’t great last season but he was still their guy. Flame throwing Bruce Rondon, who sported a 1.53 ERA to go with 29 saves in the minors gets the gig to start. The veteran trio of Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel will handle the set-up duties in the late frames, while youngsters Bryan Villarreal and Al Alburquerque add power to the pen. TWIB Notes: This team could be headed for 95 wins if Verlander picks up where he left off the past two seasons with a postseason a 0.78 WHIP into 2013, Martinez can log his 5th 100 RBI season upon his return to the line-up and Torii Hunter can remain sound defensively in that massive outfield along with Rondon hold things down as the new closer. Cleveland Indians-2012 Record 68-94(4th AL Central) With big changes coming in Chicago and Cleveland, the Tribe could be making huge strides in 2013 as the closest competitor to Detroit the American League Central can boast. Terry Fancona takes over for the fired Manny Acta and brings along a ton of changes with him. Gone are Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo, who combined for 25 seasons off Lake Erie. Enter big names Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and Brett Myers. The big question mark with the Indians of course will be can the potential of the rotation rise up and give the offense a chance in 2013? Justin Masterson and the unsteady Ubaldo Jimenez front the staff, as both are hoping to bounce back from struggles in 2012. Myers was signed to a one year, 7 million dollar deal and makes a return as a starter after closing for the Astros and setting up for the White Sox last season. Question marks sit in the fourth and fifth spots as Zach McAllister hopes to build off a strong 2012 campaign and former All-Star Scott Kazmir, only 29 years old hopes to bounce back after spending all of last season in the Independent League. Behind the plate, this could be the year Carlos Santana breaks out! He has the makings of an All-Star with plate discipline and power to all fields. Swisher takes over at 1B with Lonnie Chisenhall at the hot corner, who’s coming off an amazing spring which saw him, hit .404 with four long balls. Up the middle Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera are as good as they come defensively. Michael Brantley returns to anchor down leftfield after a .288 season with 60 RBI. Bourn is the big name in centerfield after a four-year, $48 million dollar deal. He brings speed and a Gold Glove to the Tribe. Drew Stubbs, who came over in the Shin-Soo Choo trade, needs to cut down on his strikeouts, while Reynolds needs to do the same in the DH role which will be crucial. In the bullpen, Cleveland sports the division’s top closer in All-Star Chris Perez. The righty saved 98 games over the last three seasons, while shinning with a 2.84 ERA. Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith will handle the set-up role after 57 holds last year in 144 appearances. Rounding out the bullpen are the more experienced Cody Allen and Nick Hagadone. Both saw plenty of action in the majors last year, along with Rich Hill and Bryan Shaw. TWIB Notes: This club could go one of two ways: If both Stubbs and Reynolds hit homers instead of striking out, while Masterson and Jimenez deliver on the hill, 85 victories could be obtained. If things go the opposite direction, Cleveland could be in store for a sub-75 win total and another post-season vacation. Kansas City Royals-2012 Record 72-90 (3rd Place AL Central) Big pitching additions are making Kansas City fans see a “Royal Flush” playoff push in 2013! Former Tampa Rays ace James Shields came over in a deal for multiple prospects and now it’s time for the lefty to lead the way with his 3.33 career ERA from Tropicana Field. K.C. now has the ace it’s been lacking and he has help on his backside too. Ervin Santana joins the staff for the entire season, hoping to cut down on his 39 homers allowed last year. Righty Jeremy Guthrie re-upped with a three-year deal, while former reliever Wade Davis and lefty Bruce Chen round out the starters. Lots of home grown talent resides on the Royals infield. Catcher Salvador Perez continues to return from a knee injury after hitting .301 with 11 homers in just 289 at-bats last season. The corners are loaded with Eric Hosmer manning down 1B and Mike Moustakas at 3B. Both have star potential and this could be the year it blossoms. Chris Getz wins the job at 2B and is joined again by flashy SS Alcides Escobar who is finally starting to hit, dropping a .293 average last season. Billy Butler will hold down the DH role, hitting .313 last season with a career high of 29 homers and 107 RBI. Alex Gordon returns to LF after lacing an AL-high of 51 doubles and grabbing a second consecutive Gold Glove. Veteran Jeff Francoeur returns in RF with Lorenzo Cain hoping he can lockdown the turf in CF after battling the injury bug in 2012. The bullpen has been a Kansas City strength over the last season sporting a division leading 3.17 ERA. Greg Holland (16 saves) returns as the closer, a role he inherited after Jonathan Broxton was traded to the Reds last year. Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow all saw plenty of action in 2012 appearing in over 70 games apiece and succeeding! The trio posted sub-3.50 ERAs and are a proven commodity out of the pen. Both Luke Hochevar and Luis Mendoza take over relief roles and Juan Gutierrez hopes to return strong coming off Tommy John surgery. TWIB Notes: Plate discipline will be huge for this K.C. offense in 2013. Kansas City drew the fewest walks in the league last season and is stacked with some free swingers in the line-up as Getz, Escobar and Francoeur have never seen pitches they didn’t like! If things go right, Royals could be a wild-card team as they won’t challenge Detroit in the division. Chicago White Sox- 2012 Record 85-77 (2nd AL Central) Plenty of new faces in White Sox uniforms this spring after the free agency defections of A.J. Pierzynski, Kevin Youkilis, Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano. With that said, there is a cautious optimism on the South Side this season. There is lots of pressure on the one-two pitching combo of lefty Chris Sale and righty Jake Peavy. A possible CY Young candidate, Sale sported a strong 17-8 record last season with room for improvement. Peavy returned to strong form and earned himself a two-year, 29 million dollar deal, while Gavin Floyd has strong incentive to be solid, now throwing in a contract season. While John Danks starts the year on the disabled list, still recovering from shoulder surgery, Jose Quintana and Dylan Axelrod hold down the four and five spots. The biggest question mark in the offensive line-up is whether longtime prospect Tyler Flowers can meet expectations behind the plate and in the box, taking over in the absence of Pierzynski. Paul Konerko (37 years old) still can hit the cover off the ball while playing 1B. Newcomer Jeff Keppinger, who hit .325 for the Rays last season, takes over 3B with a new three-year, 12 million dollar deal. The trouble spots in the line-up are up the middle offensively not defensively. Gordon Beckham hit just .238 last season at second while Alexei Ramirez is coming off his worst offensive season ever. The outfield is much steadier for the Sox. Adam Dunn belted 41 homers in 2012 in the DH role and Dayan Viciedo held his own in his first season as a starter belting 25 home runs with 78 RBI while holding down LF. Alejandro De Aza can cover plenty of ground in CF and stole 26 bases in the lead-off spot, while Alex Rios returns in RF and hopes to turn the clock back to the 2012 campaign which saw him hit .304 with 25 homers and 23 steals, not 2011’s .223 average with 13 dingers. Young Addison Reed will again anchor the closer role out of the bullpen. He converted 29 of 33 chances in 2012. Getting to Reed should be no problem as long a Nate Jones is on the hill. He was fantastic in 65 appearances last season posting an 8-0 record with a 2.39 ERA. Matt Thornton joins him in the set-up role, while Matt Lindstrom, Donnie Veal, Brian Omogrosso and Hector Santiago who pitches in all capacities will start the year in the pen. TWIB Notes: For the Sox to have any shot at a playoff berth, Sale will have to repeat his 2012 efforts. At the age of 23 he was among the American League’s top five in wins, ERA, WHIP, opponents’ batting average and strikeout rate. He is the horse and the ace and the biggest key to the Chicago season. Minnesota Twins- 2012 Record 66-96 (5th in AL Central) Minnesota had enough pitching problems last season to lose 96 games, only a three game improvement from the previous season. You’d think they’d have dramatically changed up their staff but the changes on paper don’t appear to be that drastic which is why their rotation again places them finishing in last among our predictions. Former Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Vance Worley acquired in a trade for outfielder Ben Revere will have to be the ace of the staff until Scott Diamond recovers from minor elbow surgery he underwent in December. The Twinkies signed Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey in the off-season, not exactly a two and three starter spot that is going to encourage a fan base. Righties Liam Hendricks and Cole De Vries round out the rotation for now. With that said, the Twins need a healthy Joe Mauer behind the plate and they should have it. He hit .319 last season to go with Justin Morneau’s 19 home runs and 77 rbis at 1B. 3B was solid behind Trevor Plouffe’s 24 homers in 422 plate appearances. Big questions remain at 2B and SS with both Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon Jr. drawing opening day assignments in the infield. Ryan Doumit is back with pop as the DH, after hitting 18 HR and driving home 75 RBI in 2012. Josh Willingham is back as the big bopper in the line-up, (35 HR, 110 RBI) last season in LF. Aaron Hicks is now the starter in CF with the trades of Revere and Denard Span, while Chris Parmelee makes the jump from Triple-A last season and gets the permanent start in RF. For the games Minnesota is not playing catch-up, they have a decent bullpen to hold down the fort. Last year’s group sported a 3.77 ERA which was good for 17th overall in the majors. Glen Perkins saved 16 games from the left side in 2012, averaging 10 k’s per nine innings. He is the man now that Matt Capps is gone. The set-up men are Jared Burton (2.18 ERA, 64 G) and Casey Fien (2.06 ERA, 35 G). Both were solid last season and will be joined by Ryan Pressly, Brian Duensing and middling right-handers Alex Burnett and Josh Roenicke. TWIB Notes: Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire enters his 13th season, as a manager without a contract behind the 2013 year and most of his staff was fired in the last off-season or reassigned. So, the writing is on the wall for the skipper. Another 90-loss season and his days in Minnesota will be over as the second longest tenured manager in the majors behind the Angels Mike Scioscia. Detroit Tigers-2012 Record 88-74 (1st Place AL Central) Most baseball analyst believe the American League Central is the Tiger’s world and everyone else is just on the 162 day menu! Last season Jim Leyland’s squad won 88 games in the regular season, withstood the A’s in the ALDS, and swept the Derek Jeter missing Yankees in the ALCS, before laying an egg against the underdog Giants in the World Series. The only major departures from that team were Delmon Young and Jose Valverde, who both encountered down years. So a 90 win season is the projection and here’s why. Detroit arguably has the best rotation in baseball. Despite a terrible fall classic, Justin Verlander is still Justin Verlander. After winning the CY Young two seasons ago and coming close last season, you can only expect the best from the American League’s top righty again. But the rest of the rotation is top-notch as well. Doug Fister is a strong number two, followed by Max Scherzer led baseball in strikeout rate last season, not to mention a 15-4 record with a 3.14 ERA after a tough start in April. Follow that up with Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello and you know why the Tigers are once again our top pick to repeat in the Central. In the infield, the Tigers once again sport two of the game’s premier sluggers on the corners with Prince Fielder at 1B and Miguel Cabrera at 3B. Behind the plate, Alex Avila will be looking to return to his 2011 form of .295 with 19 home runs and 82 RBI. The middle infield is solid again with Omar Infante at 2B and Jhonny Peralta at SS. By the way, Victor Martinez returns from a knee injury which caused him to miss all of last season. He’ll replace the departure of Delmon Young at DH. The free-agent signing of Torii Hunter highlights the Tigers outfield. He’ll be joined by Austin Jackson in CF and Andy Dirks in LF. The bullpen is the only question mark in Motown and that’s because of the departure of closer Jose Valverde. He wasn’t great last season but he was still their guy. Flame throwing Bruce Rondon, who sported a 1.53 ERA to go with 29 saves in the minors gets the gig to start. The veteran trio of Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel will handle the set-up duties in the late frames, while youngsters Bryan Villarreal and Al Alburquerque add power to the pen. TWIB Notes: This team could be headed for 95 wins if Verlander picks up where he left off the past two seasons with a postseason a 0.78 WHIP into 2013, Martinez can log his 5th 100 RBI season upon his return to the line-up and Torii Hunter can remain sound defensively in that massive outfield along with Rondon hold things down as the new closer. It’s almost a month since we sprung forward, now the rosters have been cut the one-timers are back delivering pizzas and it’s time for the boys of summer to take center stage. As we countdown to the opening day and the first pitch we’ll breakdown each division and see who has made the moves and developed the talent to still be being talked about when we take the coats out of storage in October, then we’ll give you our take who will be the final two left standing. American League East Toronto Blue Jays – 2012 Record 73-89 (4th in AL East) Toronto is the only AL East club not to make a post season appearance in the last four seasons so the pressure has been mounting to turn back the tide and so the Jays management went through it’s Twisted Sister phase in the off season and decided “they weren’t gonna’ take it anymore” making major off-season moves that not only threaten to end their 20-year playoff drought but make them instant contenders for both the East and the AL crown. GM Alex Anthopoulous sent his manager to Boston, signed scandal ridden ex-Giant Melky Cabrera to a two-year deal, got the reigning Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets, and completely overhauled their team roster with a 12-man deal with the Marlins. But they didn’t stop there, adding SS Jose Reyes and pitcher Josh Johnson the goal is to get some pitching to complement that potent offense. The projected rotation for the Jays is RA Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, and Ricky Romero. The bullpen will house Casey janssen, Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver, Steve Delabar, and Brett Cecil. Opening day roster should have Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, and Jose Bautista in the outfield, Brett Lawrie, Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and Edwin Encarnacion in the infield, Adam Lind as the DH, and JP Arencibia will be behind the dish. TWIB Notes : Offensively the Blue Jays were just three runs shyof the major league leaders when Jose Bautista injured his wrist in July. Adding Reyes and Cabrera to the 1-2 punch of bautista and Encarnacion should make them the most potent in the division. Defensively they are just average and Reyes is actually as step back from Yunel Escobar so this may be a challenge and they may need the offense to put plenty of crooked numbers on the scoreboard. The starting pitching will be better this year but not quite as good as the Rays, and the jury is out on how Dickey will adjust to the day-in-day-out grind of the AL East, that said if Ricky Romero comes back strong they’re battle Tampa for the best rotation. The bench isn’t deep but Rajai Davis and Macier Izturis give manager John Gibbons some good options. Our Prediction: first in the AL East, for the first time since they won back-to-back world championships the Jays will be in the post season. ~~~~~~~~ Sorry to our friends at the ‘Mother Ship’ whom love to put the Yankees v. Red Sox on the game of the week whenever possible, after watching them finish out the pre-season and wondering how effective DJ will be we had to drop them to fourth and fifth in the AL East respectively and that means out of the playoff picture. We have the Baltimore Orioles moving up to the two spot in the division and we realize that last season the blackbirds got all the right breaks en route to a playoff run and we think they’ll be able to build on their success here’s why. Baltimore Orioles 2012 Record 93-69 (2nd in A.L. East) Buck Showalter is back at the helm and still hoping to duplicate the infrastructure he created in New York and Arizona by laying the foundation to win a World Series Championship even though it came to fruition after he was fired from both organizations. Coming off their first post-season appearance since 1997 the birds hope to take it a couple of steps further this season. Now the crux of their success may be in the arms race where they were severely handicapped last season as they didn’t have one starter win 12 games. That said, the only key addition to the staff is lefty T.J. McFarland and he isn’t going to help the opening day rotation which right now consist of Jason Hammel, We-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Brian Matusz. Although it’s not intimidating the Orioles were an amazing 74-0 in games when they lead after the 7th inning last year and you can’t accomplish that without great relief pitching. Offensively there is that concern that the Orioles had the worst run differential of all AL playoff teams at +7 and hit just .256 with runners in scoring position. The upside is they were 29-9 (.763) in one-run games, the best in the modern baseball era. Furthermore they were 25-14 in two run games and 16-2 in extra innings so they seemed to push the runs across when they had to. The projected Outfield is Nate Mclouth, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis, the infield has Manny Machado, JJ hardy, Brian Roberts, and Chris Davis. Matt Wieters is behind the dish with Wilson Betemit as the DH. TWIB notes: The Orioles were second in the majors in home runs (214) but finished 11th in the AL in on-base percentage (.311) and last in steals with 58 this will need to be addressed if the O’s are going to be a serious contender. The bullpen once again has no clear ace, at least until Dylan Bundy arrives and they’ll need Buck Showalter to work is magic again this season once they get past the sixth inning. Off the bench the additions of Trayvon Robinson and Danny Valencia will need to have a big ROI when called upon. Our Prediction: Over the previous four years the Orioles had between 64 and 69 wins until last season’s breakout 93-win season. We look for the up trend to continue but not quite 93 wins and not quite the division title, AL East 2nd Place. ~~~~~~~~ Tampa Bay Rays – 2012 Record 90-72 (3rd in A.L. East) The Rays have made the playoffs in three of the last five years averaging 92 wins per season despite a minimal payroll, sometimes embarrassing attendance, and playing in arguably the toughest division in baseball. In 2012 the Rays just missed the playoffs consisting of players that seem more likely to be on a AAA roster following a free-agent exodus in 2011. The Rays have made no progress in the quest to secure a new ball park so we expect to see more of the same from Tampa, wins that far exceed the ROI of their payroll and small crowds to watch them. Tampa was the first team in history to win 90 games and be last in attendance. It would seem these factors with a small market club whose only 100 million dollar star (Evan Longoria) has only played 207 games over the last to seasons, would doom them to the cellar. However a great farm system and the best arms in the game keep them in the mix. We do think this is the season that some of this catches up with them. Their .240 batting average was second only to the 72’ as the worst average to ever win 90 games, keep in mind that A’s club went on to win the world series, but the Rays weren’t so lucky and won’t come close to that total this year if they don’t find some stick somewhere. Offensively BJ Uptons departure will be hard to replace and even if Longoria is healthy they’ll need to replace those runs and right now it’s hard to see where they will come from even with the Joe Maddon’s ability to manipulate a lineup. The Outfield from left to right will have Sam Fuld, Desmond Jennings, and Matt Joyce. Infield will start Longoria at 3rd, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, and James Loney. Jose Molina will be behind the dish with Ryan Roberts as the DH. Pitching is the heart and soul of the club coming off a league leading 3.19 last year and David Price is alone worth the price of admission. Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Jeff Niemann round out the rest of the staff which should be the best in the division which is why we think they’ll finish ahead of Boardwark and Parkplace and finish third. ~~~~~~~~ New York Yankees – 2012 record 95-67 (1st in A.L. East) I guess this is blasphemous portion of the program as this is where we go on record and state that not only are the Yankees not going to make the playoffs for the first time five years, but that they’re going to finish fourth in the AL East. We realize they’re the defending division champs and will have access to services of Mariano Rivera this season, but they’re core is aging and they will pay the price in the dog days of July and August. Yankees GM Brian “Cash” Cashman lived up to his name in the off season by re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera to one-year deals which cost a combined 37 million dollars. They followed that up by signing 39-year old Ichiro Suzuki and Kevin Youkilis (34) to two-year deals. The Yankees have not been able to beat father time but at least keep him at bay over the last couple of years (last year’s starting lineup ave age was 32.7) but this time they will have to pay the piper. Ironically, Pettitte, Rivera, and Derek Jeter (39) all made their debut with the club in 1995, while AROD (38) was not far behind entering the league you normally see one or two veteran players in the lineup to help stabilize the clubhouse or nurture in the new talent, but not the lion’s share of the lineup. Congratulations Mark Teixiera (33) you are the spring chicken of the Bronx Bombers, and this will be a problem going forward as the farm system is not ready to produce any impact players anytime soon. TWIB notes- Offensively the Yankees did score 804 runs last season, second in the majors and getting Brett Gardner back healthy in the leadoff spot will provide much needed offensive options as opposed to the ‘bloom and a blast’ strategy which seem to soot them so well last season. Defensively Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano form an elite right side of the infield and Gardner can be a top outfielder. DJ and AROD have lost some range and Youk is not much of an upgrade but they should be able to hold their own. Pitching could be the problem again this season as re-signing Kuroda was key as it may take some of the starts away from CC who needs to be fresh if he’s going be there down the stretch. Along with CC, Pettitte, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova won a combined 43 games last year but that seems like a lofty number to repeat this year. In the bullpen the jury is still out on how effective Mariano will be so more pressure will be on Boon Logan and Clay Rapada who are solid. The projected lineup will be Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Suzuki in the outfield, Youkilis, Jeter, Cano, and Teixeira in the diamond. Francisco Cervelli behind the plate and AROD as the DH. There may be six future Hall of Fame members in this lineup but this season they may be in and out of the lineup and we don’t think they’ll be higher than fourth in a very competitive division. ~~~~~~~~ Boston Red Sox – 2012 Record 69-93 (last in AL East) The Red Sox are a far cry from the club that was a force to be reckoned with in the early zeros, including back-to-back titles, and after a humbling 2012 where they were never in the race, they’ve begun the rebuilding process but it could be another long hot summer. Starting with the top down, departures by Theo Epstein the ‘Money Ball’ disciple and architect of those two World Series Championships is gone as is manager Terry Francona. In their place is outspoken and controversial manager Bobby Valentine who had a tumultuous first season to say the least, and new GM Ben Cherington will probably have a very short leash on the wild card going into this season. The opening day lineup should have Jonny Gomes, Jacoby Ellsburyu, and Shane Victorino in the outfield, with an infield of Will Middlebrooks, Stephen Drew, Dustin Pedroia, and Mike Napoli. Catching will be Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Big Pappi comes back to DH. TWIB notes: Offensively it may not be the same scoring machine it was for much of the Francona era, and they will certainly miss Adrian Gonzalez, but they can still score runs with Ellsbury, Pedroia, and Ortiz, we look for them to fall in the middle of the pack. Defensively they’ll be much improved as Carl Crawford and Gonzo have solidified the Sox defense and Victorino (3-time golden glove winner) is as solid as they come, we have them right behind the Yankees in defense. However the Achilles heel for this club will be pitching. The names are headliners but they 2012 performance was far from it as Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, and John Lackey have had great seasons in the past but haven’t put one together here. They need them to return to form to even have a hope of climbing out of the cellar. Out of the pen closer Andrew Bailey was injured for most of the last campaign but he’ll likely have a setup roll this season with the addition of Joel Hanrahan. We place their starting pitching last and relief 4th which doesn’t spell relief for the sox. All in all, as with most rebuilding clubs, it may be a hard season for the Sox faithful, but if there is ever a club that can literally pull a WS ring out of thin air, this is the franchise. Our prediction: 5th.
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