Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Baseball Playoffs – All about the Wild Wild West

Just a couple of months ago we ran post elaborating on how five of the six division races were up for grabs and how the team on top ‘right now’ will probably not be the one raising the pennant in October. Well for all intent and purposes all but one of those races has been decided and the one that’s left could do down in history as the best ever in the wild card era.
The Astros had lead the division for most almost the entire season with a brief exception in July when the Angles took over for about a week but other than that aberration, Houston sat on top and were the talk of the league. Then heading into the home stretch the Rangers took over the lead in mid-September looked to cruse their way in. Now at the wire all three are neck-n-neck, and the Rangers are fading near the tape, losers of 3 straight, 5 of their last 10, and still have to face the Tigers for two more then of course the 4-game series with the Angels that will decide the division title in one way or anther. Speaking of the Angels, of the three horses they appear to be peaking at the right time. Winners of 8 of their last 10, more importantly 10-0 in one-run games the Angels have not only won games they had to win but done it against good competition (taking 2/3 from Texas, 3/4 Twins, sweeping Seattle, and 2/3 Houston) and for all intent and purposes have been playing playoff games for the last three weeks. Now they sit two games back of the division and .5 out of the wild card. That brings us to the perpetual division leaders Houston, the feel good story of the league this year, looked like they were a shoe-in for a worst-to-first story a month ago now are not only fighting to win the division they had won but for their playoff lives. Fortunately for the Stros they don’t have a dog in the TX/SoCal fight will surely benefit if they beat each other up and split the series. Six games vs. two non-playoff clubs in Seattle and Arizona even though they’re on the road should help the Astros at least get the wild card if they don’t get the division. One thing that needs to be noted is that second place may not get you a gold star and a champagne party to start October but it may give you a golden ticket to the promised land as we have seen plenty of teams come out of the WC game to go on to the World Series and it seems like the big hurdle is that one game playoff game on the road. But considering the way these three clubs have had to play for the last month they should hit the playoffs running and with a ton of momentum and they won’t be someone the Jays, Royals, or Yankees will want to face.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

MLB Pennant Races - 50 games to go

With only, yes I said only, about 50 games left to play in the season we are beginning to see how the second season might unfold, as many questions as there are still left to answer one thing is certain, that one of the top clubs of the season to date is going to be left out of the playoff picture in both the NL and AL. In the National League the catbird seat will be held by perpetual top-seeds from St. Louis, the Patriots of baseball. The Cards have a five game lead over the Pirates for the NL Central, a four game lead over the Royals for the overall best record. Of course that doesn’t mean much now that we’ve gone to the All-Star Game method, but it still sends a message that the road to riches still travels through the arch. Because of the dominance of the NL Central winner, the silver medalist will also be first wild card so that means there is only one more seat on the last life raft to be fought for by the Mets, Nats, Cubs, Dodgers, and defending champion Giants. Once again the division winner will survive and advance and the runner up will go home. The Dodgers may have a 3 game lead over the Giants in the West but despite a plethora of moves ahead of the trade deadline they don’t look any closer to shoring up that short starting rotation or retched bullpen. Kershaw and Grinke have been carrying the club all season and the addition of Latos and Wood so far haven’t made much of a difference. LA has two golden starters and a closer that’s subject to giving up at least a run in most of his save opportunities. That may be enough to get through a 7-game series if Zach and Clayton don’t lose but much like the NLDS last year, once Kershaw lost game 1 the Dodgers were done. What they do have going for them is that over the next 22 games the Giants will play nothing but clubs that are fighting for playoff spots. All of their opponents have been previously mentioned except the Astros who are currently in first place in the AL East. Astros, Nats, Cards, Pirates, Cubs, Cards, and Dodgers. Look it up, it’s the toughest stretch any club will face all season and it will be the reason why LA will take down its second consecutive NL West flag, but unless something changes right away that will about as far as the Dodgers go. In the NL East, the Nats have been calling their shot the entire year about how they’re the best in the league and how everyone expects them to win the NL, well now that prediction is in serious jeopardy. The Nats currently find themselves a game and a half out of first place which usually doesn’t mean anything with two months to play but the Mets are the hottest team in the NL right now along with the Cubs and that’s who they’re chasing. It would behoove them to come out of a 7-game roadie with the Dodgers and Giants with a winning record because if they fall too far behind the Mets they may not catch up. Meanwhile the Mets are a far cry for the “Mighty Mets” of the eighties but they are playing with a ton of enthusiasm have just taken 2 of 3 from the Nats to take the division lead but have a tough road to finish out the season so they had better continue their winning ways. With all of the talk about global warming and freaky summer weather nation wide it’s no wonder they are talking about the drought ending in Chicago. The Cubs trying to break the curse find themselves 3.5 games ahead of the Giants for the final Wild Card seat that would leave the Nationals out in the cold. The hottest team in baseball at 9-1 over their last 10 the Cubbies finally are giving fans something else to cheer for except the start of football season but a though schedule with series at the Giants, Dodgers, Cards, and Pirates have many thinking that it is perpetual death for Chi Town and come September things will be back to normal with the Cubs on the outside looking in. Next up………………The AL races.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

11th Hour Moves Shape the MLB Race to the Finish

Firstly, apologies are in order for those of you whom lambasted us back in June when we went on record stating that strange names on the top of the divisions like the Astros, Twins, and Mets were here to stay. Well, here we are in August and three of the four clubs we highlighted are on top of their respective divisions. Moreover, they look like they have their sights set on taking the flag not just the division crown. However it’s not just the young guns that are making strides to the top, the clubs that have become synonymous with fall baseball the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Giants have all made big moves. Ironically, everyone but the Yankees, who seem to always be wheeling and dealing, have made moves but the Bombers seem content with their club that currently holds a five-game lead in the East and believes they have all the components to make another glory run. The Cards, who seem to perpetually have the league’s best record only have to fear peaking too early and to prevent a repeat of falling short in the NLCS like last year, GM John Mozeliak reconfigured the roster with the additions of first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss and relievers Steve Cishek and Jonathon Broxton. Moss will hopefully be the bat Cardinal fans were hoping for, though naysayers think the team overpaid by sending single-A lefty and former first rounder Rob Kaminsky to Cleveland. The Dodgers whom have the second best record in the National League made a ton of moves to not only get them over the hump and back to the world series for the first time in over two decades but justify that massive payroll. The first thing they needed to do was acquire anyone else that can throw the ball over 50 mph to help Greinke and Kershaw and fill in the gaps until they can take the bump again. They countered by making only one move, but a massive one, a three-team, 13-player blockbuster that added four above-average pitchers to a staff desperate for reinforcements. Having lost Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy to season-ending arm surgeries early in the year, the Dodgers finally landed replacements in Mat Latos and Alex Wood, the latter of whom has four team-controlled years remaining, and to a bullpen that has been shaky all year, they added rejuvenated former closer Jim Johnson and lefty Luis Avilan. In addition to all of that, they brought in highly-regarded 21-year-old infield prospect Jose Pereza, who could be starting in the middle of the diamond for L.A. next year, and the best player they gave up was a 30-year-old Cuban defector with a sketchy injury history who has never played a game in the major leagues Hector Olivera, that they paid handsomely for the rights to in the off-season. Meanwhile the Mets added Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson and Tyler Clippard. That’s an impressive haul for a team that has been paralyzed by financial concerns in recent seasons and developed a reputation for never making the big move it needed to make to get better. The Mets desperately needed a bat, and they got three, led by All-Star slugger Cespedes, whose Home Run Derby win in 2013 stands as one of a limited number of memorable moments from Citi Field’s first seven seasons. Uribe and Johnson may not appear in the lineup together very often, but both veterans have been swinging hot bats this season and represent upgrades for a Mets lineup that was last in the majors in run scored prior to their acquisition. cespedes Following a 92-loss season last year and three straight last-place finishes before that, the Astros slipped behind the Angels into second place in the American League West on July 12, marking the first time since mid-April that they didn’t occupy the top spot in their division. Their confidence did not waiver. The Astros struck the first blow of the deadline period by acquiring Houston native Scott Kazmir from the A’s late last Thursday, and promptly swept the Angels to take over first place in the AL West for the first time in franchise history. The Astros completed a second deal, bringing centerfielder Carlos Gomez and starter Mike Fiers to Houston, the former representing a significant upgrade from the slumping Jake Marisnick. With Kazmir and Gomez in place, the Astros are in excellent position to reach the postseason for the first time since 2005. These are the teams in the spotlight but the slipping under the radar are the Blue Jays whom may be 7 games out of first place but are only two back in the wild card race and I guarantee you are a club nobody wants to see in the post-season. Toronto arguably landed the best pitcher and position player to be dealt at this deadline in David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, the latter of whom is under contract for six more seasons. In adding set-up men La Troy Hawkins (acquired in the Tulowitzki deal) and Mark Lowe, they drastically improved their bullpen. And they upgraded their fourth outfielder slot by acquiring Ben Revere (who has two team-controlled years remaining) to boot. All of this adds up to a stretch run that should have a number of clubs fighting for those final playoff spots and making another case for how great the world is since the Wild Card came into play. So now we’ve seen the river card and now it’s a matter to see who was drawing dead and who has a shot to still be playing when the season turns.

Monday, June 15, 2015

MLB - New Kids on the MLB Block

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

Saturday, April 4, 2015

MLB Opening Day - The Toughest Divisions

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