Wednesday, March 31, 2010

MLB Preview-AL West

Today I take a look at the four team AL West. It might be a bit closer than what you would think...

  1. Seattle Mariners: Seattle might of had the best offseason in Major League Baseball. They first went out and signed 3B Chone Figgins away from the Angels, and not to long later, the acquired P Cliff Lee from Philadelphia, and they acquired OF Milton Bradley from Chicago. They now have an elite 1-2 punch in the rotation with Felix Hernandez. They now have a #2 hitter than can get on base with Ichiro for the cleanup hitters. They now have a cleanup hitter that can drive those guys in. This team just sticks out to me as the favorite here. They seem determined to get to October. So I pick them to get there.
  2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels might of had the opposite offseason the Mariners had. They lost P John Lackey and 3B Chone Figgins to free agency. How can you let your ace and leadoff hitter walk out the door? Last season they had lots of guys step up and have career years. I don't think they can have those same numbers from the players. They appear to have good pitching and good hitting, which would make them the favorite. But not for me. Those before mentioned players they lost weren't just key players, they were clubhouse leaders. So the Angels need to find their identity before they go anywhere and with the rising power in Seattle, I pick the Angels second.
  3. Texas Rangers: For many years now, the Rangers have had great hitting teams. But their achillies heel in those years was their pitching. And I expect the same this season. They have an emerging ace in Scott Feldman and they took a gamble and signed Rich Harden to be the #2 starter. And even if you can keep Harden on the field, there alot of wild cards behind them. But in their defense they have younger guys, in those rotation spots and in the bullpen, who are still trying to make names for themselves. And they will need to step up against the Mariners and Angels if they want have a chance. Again, this team can hit. But they need to start pitching. It kills me to pick them third, but its hard to see them pitch well in August and September and that kills them in the end.
  4. Oakland Athletics: If you look at the Oakland lineup you see many question marks. Their staff ace Ben Sheets is a big question mark as he comes off elbow surgery in 2009. Their best hitter, Jack Cust, is a career .239 hitter. They do have a young team going into 2010. But their starting pitching is very young and will show some inconsistency as the year progresses. Their hitting does please the eye as well. And it appears OF Coco Crisp will be their team leader, and that raises a red flag with me. On paper the A's are a long ways off from winning. But this is Oakland, and they seem to overachieve every year. So I think this team will finish last, but they won't go down without a fight either.
Tomorrow I dive into the lob-sided AL East. But it might not be the same two teams coming out of that division in my opinion. Check back tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

MLB Preview-NL Central

Here's the breakdown of the NL Central. There are definitely some good teams in here so lets see how I picked them...

  1. St. Louis Cardinals: A seemingly harmless fly ball that was dropped in Game 2 of the NLDS ended any chance of a deep Cardinal playoff run in 2009. But with a fairly similar team coming back in 2010 one should expect St. Louis to make a return to the postseason. They have one of the best 1-2 punches atop their rotation with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. And they have one of the best 3-4 hitters in their lineup with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Their pitching has some wild cards in Kyle Lohse and Brad Penny, but with pitching guru Dave Duncan on the bench they should have just fine years. Behind Pujols and Holliday, the Cards have some questionable hitting, which holds me back from tabbing them NL contenders. But for now I will tab them NL Central division champs.
  2. Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers had a down year in 2009. They had some under performing players and some injury plagued players that held them down. 2010, however, has bright lights shining on Milwaukee in my opinion. They needed some experienced pitchers and they got that in the form of Randy Wolf and Dave Bush. They also now have youngsters Carlos Gomez roaming center field and Alcides Escobar at shortstop, as the Brewers lineup got a bit younger. Let's not forget Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun anchor this lineup that can do serious damage, and they have Trevor Hoffman closing games in the ninth. I like how this team is built, and I gave some serious thought to them as the NL Wild Card winner, but they need just a bit more experience which was my deciding factor. But don't expect the Brewers to go quietly.
  3. Chicago Cubs: One would think the Cubs would give St. Louis a run for their money in 2010. On paper they certainly seem poised to do so. But it's the Cubs we are talking about. For so many years they have looked good on paper, but they always have some catastrophic meltdown. Sure, the Cubs have a good pitching staff (Lead by ace Carlos Zambrano) and sure, they have a dangerous lineup (3 players in this lineup are capable of hitting 30 home runs). But will I pick the Cubs to win the central? No. Will I pick them second? No. They get a bronze medal in this race. So let's sit back and watch them unravel for the 102nd straight year.
  4. Houston Astros: The fans in Houston did not have much to cheer about in 2009. I expect the same in 2010 from the Astros. They have one proven pitcher in Roy Oswalt and two proven hitters in Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman. They have young outfielders Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence. But beyond the before mentioned players the Astros have some wild card players and some young unproven players coming up. They have yet to name a closer and their options (Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom) are not eye pleasing. But they have new manager Brad Mills who has two World Series rings from Boston, and I like his experience on the bench. But it is not enough to get Houston anywhere this year.
  5. Cincinnati Reds: If you're a Reds fan, the future of this team seems very bright. They have some young talented hitters (Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, and Brandon Phillips) and some young talented pitchers (Aaron Harang, Homer Bailey, and Aroldis Chapman). Chapman, was their high priced signing in the offseason as he came highly touted while defecting from Cuba. Now the Reds are trying to find the right mix of veterans to this young core. They signed free agent SS Orlando Cabrera this offseason, while having veteran pitchers Bronson Arroyo and Arthur Rhodes on the pitching staff. But I still think they are a couple of years away from putting up a great fight in this division.
  6. Pittsburgh Pirates: Here's another team that has a bright future. And if you live in Pittsburgh you would hope the Pirates can keep this core of talented players they have assembled on the team. Promising hitters Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, and Ryan Doumit lead the team as they try to end Pittsburgh's 18 year skid of losing seasons. Their rotation is up in the air as Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, and Paul Maholm try to make names for themselves. The only recognizable name in the bullpen is Octavio Dotel and he is a wild card at best. The pitching will hold Pittsburgh back from doing great things this year, but it may be a strong point in the years to come.
Tomorrow I switch over to the junior circuit and look at the American League West...

MLB Preview-NL East

Today I tackle the NL East. This year I think this will be a one team division, but there are some other teams in here that are going to be competitive for many years to come...

  1. Philadelphia Phillies: This is far and away the best team in the National League. They have the most solid lineup, and you cant get much better in terms of pitching. They swapped Roy Halladay for Cliff Lee in the offseason and added Placido Polanco to man the hot corner. My only concern with this team is their closer. First Brad Lidge needs to get healthy, then he needs to pitch just a bit more consistent in the season. The Phillies can't win it all if Lidge is shaky. None the less their lineup is powerful and their starting rotation should be dominant. They win their division handily.
  2. Atlanta Braves: Last year the Braves came up ever so short in the Wild Card race, which surprised most people in baseball. The only notable offseason moves Atlanta made was trading Javier Vasquez to the Yankees and signed Troy Glaus to play first. I really like how the Braves are shaping up in the final year with manager Bobby Cox. They have a very solid starting 5 lead by young guns Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. A revived Billy Wagner is closing games out of the pen and with the way he pitched last year in the AL East, he should do better in this division. Oh and they have a young outfielder named Jason Heyward who has turned some heads this spring and should do that in the regular season. And I like the Braves to win the National League Wild Card.
  3. New York Mets: The 09 Mets were more remembered for their trips to the disabled list. If they have any chance of being good in 2010, they have to not make those frequent trips. But even with a healthy squad I dont think the Mets have a standout team. Behind Johan Santana, they have a shaky rotation that includes John Maine and Oliver Perez. Their bullpen is not looking solid too with the exception of their closer Francisco Rodriguez. The did add Jason Bay to spark some offense, but I dont think he or their offense can make up for how bad the pitching staff is. I'm being generous and picking the Mets third, but the could very well finish fourth.
  4. Florida Marlins: Last year the Fish finished third in the division and were in the Wild Card race for a good chunk of September too. I always seemingly pick them low in the division but they do better than expected, and I gave them serious consideration for third in the NL East. But I dont like their bullpen makeup with a bunch of unknowns trying to nail down wins in this division doesn't fit well for me. And that was the lone reason I picked them fourth. I love their rotation, lead by Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. I love their lineup, lead by batting champ Hanley Ramirez, and Dan Uggla. I love watching this team play as they are the Twins equivalent of the National League. But Florida finishes a close fourth to the Mets.
  5. Washington Nationals: Last year Washington was a awful team to watch. This year, they aren't going to have different results, but should be a bit more entertaining. They have some young guns (P Steven Strasburg and SS Ian Desmond) and some good veterans (1B Adam Dunn and P Chien-Ming Wang) on this ballclub. The Nationals are definitely a team of the future in this division and in 2010 I cannot seeing them win more than 65 games because of the other four teams in this division. But the difference between last year and this year is they should give more of a fight in games. And thats a good sign going forward.
Yesterday was crazy so I could not get this in until this morning. Later tonight I will have another post taking a look at the NL Central....

Sunday, March 28, 2010

MLB Preview-NL West

With Opening Day just 7 days away I kick off my preview of Major League Baseball today. I will have a brief analysis of each team and predict where they will finish in the division standings. Today's post I look at the National League West...

  1. San Francisco Giants: The Giants have a tremendous pitching staff lead by the reigning two time Cy Young award winner, Tim Lincecum. But in 2009, their offense was their achilles, ranking towards the bottom in most offensive categories. But the Giants have filled some holes in their lineup by adding utility man Mark DeRosa and first baseman Aubrey Huff to provide more of a offensive spark. And with youngsters Pablo Sandoval and Freddy Sanchez in the lineup, this lineup should have a heavy increase in their offensive numbers and coupled with the pitching staff will lead them to a Western division title.
  2. Colorado Rockies: Colorado strikes me as a very good team. They had a great 09 that lead them to a wild card berth. They were a very balanced team riding some young guns to October. You would think they are the odds on favorite to win this division...but I don't. I think their young guns will face some adversity they have not faced before now that they have a year under their belt. This team should hit effectively but I have issues with the starting 5 and the bullpen. Their 2 and 3 starters, Aaron Cook and Jorge DeLaRosa are streaky pitchers that cannot give a consistent season. And the pitching holds me back from giving them a playoff spot.
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers were the division winner in 2009. And after a very disappointing offseason I cannot pick them higher than third in 2010. Right now their projected first four starters in the rotation are Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, and Vicente Padilla. The first two can be solid, but the other two are very key for this team. Kuroda needs to stay on the field and Padilla needs to be as effective as he was in the final two months of 2009. And the Dodgers need a healthy bullpen to survive, as Joe Torre does not hesitate to use them. The lineup can pack a punch, but the 3 and 4 starters have to succeed for the Dodgers to succeed and I can't see that happening.
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks: Here's another team that can pack a punch in their lineup. The Diamondbacks are lead by youngsters Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds and if their lineup can perform, they can keep up on the offensive side. Pitching wise the D-Backs look solid, but they can't keep starters Brandon Webb and Dan Haren on the field at the same time. Webb is questionable to start the year healthy already which only leaves them with Haren and newcomer Edwin Jackson as proven starters. With the last two starting spots up in the air and a bullpen full of unproven pitchers I can't give the Diamondbacks much credibility this year...but they should be great in the years to come.
  5. San Diego Padres: With three contenders and a young up and coming team already in this division, there has to be a bad team. And that's where San Diego comes in. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell are their only two proven players and they are both seemingly on the trade block heading into 2010. After these guys the Padres don't have much to offer offensively or defensively. They are still a few years off from being a contender again so hopefully the have productive drafts, or else this team will be along ways off from playing in October again.
So there it is, my first division breakdown for 2010. Tomorrow I tackle the National League East.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Twins Spring Blog-Final Roster decisions

Today after the Twins defeated Philadelphia 8-4 at Hammond Stadium they made some pretty significant roster moves. They reassigned a few minor leaguers, OF Jacque Jones, and INF Matt Tolbert to the minor league camp. Sending Tolbert down means INF Alexi Casilla locked up the last roster spot off the bench. I personally have to disagree with this move due to the fact Tolbert is a hustle player and does those little things that win ballgames. He also keeps his head on his shoulders after making bad plays (which are rare from him), whereas Casilla would pout about it and just give up for a few innings. Casilla had no minor league options left and Tolbert had one. So had the Twins decided to stick with Tolbert, and send Casilla to AAA-Rochester, he would of had to pass through waivers, meaning any team in MLB could of picked him up. Had this been my decision I would of kept Tolbert and taken my chances with Casilla going on waivers. Alexi had his chances and he could not come through (except in game 163). As for the sending Jacque Jones down, that was a tough move, but was another case of not having enough roster spots. Jones was having a phenominal spring hitting .344 with 2 home runs and 4 runs batted in, in 12 games played. He truly made Gardenhire's job not easy. Jones will accept his demotion to the minors and should a Twins outfielder get hurt, look for Jones to get called back up. I would not mind seeing him back in a Twins uniform again. I'll probably only do one more spring blog and over the course of next week I will start looking at each division in MLB and I will make my season predicitons before Opening Day next Sunday.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Twins Spring Blog-Mahay returns

Yesterday the Twins announced they have signed left handed reliever Ron Mahay to a minor league deal. Mahay was a late season acquisition for the Twins in 2009 and was another key left handed specialist out of the bullpen. But I wondered why the Twins brought in another reliever when they have an already jammed packed bullpen. But as I pondered more I had more ideas pop into my head. So here are some of those moves I wondered:
  • Jose Mijares could be getting a shot at closer
  • Pat Neshek could start the season at AAA-Rochester to get some more confidence before pitching against MLB hitters
  • Even though the Twins are going to have Francisco Liriano start they are still considering him as closer
  • They have not been satisfied with Clay Condrey this spring and he will have a short leash to start the year.
  • The Twins can use another bullpen pitcher now as leverage in a potential trade for a closer
  • Or he simply could be here as a back up in case someone gets injured
So as you can see there are plenty of options now after signing Mahay. Hopefully the reason becomes clear very soon.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Twins Spring Blog-Mauer Deal

Today if you are a Twins fan, there was a late Christmas present unwrapped today. Behind that gold wrapping was a 8 year contract extension for catcher Joe Mauer. His deal will pay $184 million from 2011-2018 and comes with a full no-trade clause, ensuring he will stay in a Twins uniform. At the end of that contract he will have played 15 seasons in a Twins uniform, the most by any player since the team moved to Minnesota in 1961.For me, its exciting knowing that Joe Mauer will fall in line behind Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kent Hrbek, and Kirby Puckett as the faces of this franchise. I dont feel this deal will handicap this team. I think as long as the fans continue to come out and watch, the front office will put a competitive team on the field. And that's one of the reasons Joe stayed here was his confidence in the front office to keep putting competitive teams on the field. And in my opinion as long as he is here there will be good players around him so they can win. And dont forget the Twins have a minor league system that continues to produce major league quality talent seemingly every season, which has been huge for them in the 50 seasons they have been in Minnesota. Also, with the amount of money the Pohlad family has put out this offseason in free agents and contract extensions, it shows they are willing to spend the money and shows how much the Metrodome handicapped this team. This deal is not only good for the Twins, its good for baseball. Its good that the middle to small market teams do have a chance of keeping their best player and not let them walk away to the big markets of New York, Boston, or Los Angeles. Baseball needs teams like the Twins stepping up against those big market teams so they can't win it every year. The Twins have become the model franchise in MLB, and again today they continued to set the bar. So my bottom line is the deal is good with me and it secures the future of the Twins for the next decade.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Twins Spring Blog-Closer Options

Well, i'm sure you've heard by now the closer Joe Nathan's season is in serious jeopardy with a torn ligament in his right elbow. He will rest for two weeks and see if he can tough it out and pitch this season, but if he cannot, he will have surgery and will miss the entire 2010 season. And from what i've heard there is a 90% probability that he will require surgery. So the question now is who will shut the door for the Twins? I will look at some in-house options and some players the Twins could possibly go after.

In-House Options

Matt Guerrier-Right Matty G is the clubhouse leader to assume the role of closer. Last year he had 79 appearances (Most in MLB) and had a 2.36 ERA with a 0.97 WHIP. Guerrier was a closer in the minor leagues before the Twins kept him as a middle reliever. He did have a 5 out save last year on a day where Joe Nathan was unavailable due to throwing 50+ pitches the night before. He looked a bit shaky in that outing giving up two hits and a run to Kansas City. But none the less Ron Gardenhire has a lot of confidence in Guerrier so this job is his to lose.

Jon Rauch-Rauch is the other leading canidate to become the closer in 2010. He does have MLB closing experience with 24 career saves, 18 coming in 2008 with Washington and Arizona. He did have 6 blown saves in the same year while posting a 4.14 ERA. At 6'10" he brings an intimidation factor to the mound that you might not find with Matty Guerrier. Rauch was a late season acquisition for the Twins in 2009 going 5-1 with a 1.72 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in his 17 games in Minnesota.

Pat Neshek-For those thinking that Neshek should be the closer in Nathan's absense, you can dream on. I can't see Gardy and his staff putting Neshek in the closer's role right off the bat after coming off Tommy John Surgery in the winter of 2008/2009. If he pitches very well you might see him in the role, if Guerrier or Rauch falter. But don't take that to the bank. Even though Neshek has a career 2.91 ERA and 0.96 career WHIP, I can't see him coming out in the ninth.The Twins will just keep him as a middle relief/setup man to get his confidence back.

Jose Mijares-A lot has to happen for this job to fall on the left arm of Mijares. In the past season and a half the Twins have used him as a left handed specialist. He has done well with the job posting a 2.12 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in that time. He's just 26 years old and entering his second full season in the big leagues. And his performance in last years playoffs show he might need another year or two before you can seriously talk about him as a closer.

Jesse Crain-Right now, Crain lacks the consistency to be put in the closer conversation. In the past four seasons his ERA has gone from 3.52 to 5.51 to 3.59 and finally up to 4.70 in 2009. It's very unlikely the Twins would trust Crain in the ninth with the way his career has gone so far. All we can hope for is he remains effective as a middle reliever.

Anthony Slama-Slama is not on the 40-man roster so no i do not think he will be in the big leagues to start the season. But he could find his way up here during the season. If he hasn't been dubbed the closer of the future yet, he should be. Last season he posted a 25 save 2.48 ERA season with AA-New Britain before getting called up to AAA-Rochester where he got 4 saves before the season ended. His career ERA in the minors is 1.86 with a career 1.04 WHIP. At this rate, he should be in Twins pinstripes full time by 2012.

Possible Acquistions

Heath Bell (SD)-Last year no one knew if Bell could close games for the Padres. Now everyone knows he can. He notched 42 saves while posting a 2.71 ERA in 2009 after the departure of Trevor Hoffman. In the offseason he signed a 1 year $4 million deal to avoid arbitration, and if he can continue to perform like he did the Padres might move him to save some money as he will earn a big contract in the upcoming offseason. And if the offer is right, the Friars will move him. You may recall the Twins and Padres had discussions in the offseason regarding 3B kevin Kouzmanoff so there would be some familiarity with the two sides. The Pads were very high on pitcher Glen Perkins and if he is still with the Twins he would be an almost certain part of a potential deal. But the Twins will have to throw in a high prized prospect or two to get the Padres attention if they choose to go after Bell. But are they willing to give into the high price?

George Sherrill (LAD)-If the Twins were looking for a possibly cheaper option, former Oriole closer George Sherrill could be available. Sherrill was a 2008 all star with Baltimore, while notching 82 Saves in his one and a half seasons there. He did carry a 3.67 ERA and 1.34 WHIP with the O's, but you gotta give the guy props for having decent numbers while closing games in the AL East. He is now the setup man for the Dodgers and with the ownership struggles, the Dodgers might be looking to cut some payroll during the year, and Sherrill would be a likely canidate with a shortage on good closers out there. The question arises again would the Twins be willing to give up higher profile prospects to get this guy to fill their hole at closer?

John Smoltz (FA)-Smoltz has a Dennis Eckersley type of career. Starter, closer, Starter. He is a 6 time all star as a starter and a two time all star as a closer. But, his success has come in the National League. He gave the American League a try last year with Boston and posted a 8.32 ERA in 8 games before being waived and claimed by St. Louis where he had a 4.32 ERA. Rumors has Smoltz signing with a National League team at some point this year, but if the price is right the Twins could come calling with a tryout for the ninth inning role. And Smoltz could go for it at this point in his career where he could be more effective pitching in just one inning. And he would also bring some great experience to a pitching staff that does not have much in postseason play. But again, Smoltz has to be open to trying the American League again, has to be open to closing, and needs to come at a bargain price which wouldn't be until mid-season. He would probably be conisdered a last resort.

Monday, March 1, 2010

In the Beginning...

From time to time I get asked the question,"How did you get so into sports?" And the answer is not a quick one. I have tried to condense my answer when asked but I cut a part or two and the story does not make much sense. So today since I have some time to kill, I will share my story....

It all begins in the year 1999. I was in the fourth grade. My mother had just gotten a new job and this new job required her to start at 4 am now. And since my dad had to be at his work by 6 am and since we lived far away from my school there was a problem. How do we get me to school. So they did a trial run of taking me to my grandparents at 3:30 am and I would sleep on their couch until it was time to rise and shine. The trial went well so the move was made permanent. But there was an occasional morning where getting back to sleep was not easy. So I laid on the couch I decided to watch some tv to put me to sleep. But at 4 am, you have the option of either paid programming shows, the nanny reruns (those cause migranes), or SportsCenter. Since I had some interest in sports, I turned on the SportsCenter morning reruns. Then eventually the eyes would shut and I would sleep until 8. Upon waking up you would make the walk to the breakfast table and the newspaper would be out on the table. And there were some days i wouldn't read it at first and so my grandfather (I refer to him as my predecessor) would take the sports page and put it in front of me and go, "Here, read this. You'll find it interesting." He was the third element to my madness. He had a great mind for sports. He would sit in his usual chair at the table with talk radio on and his glass of coffe drunk and bowl of wheaties ate. His opinions were out there at some points, but he always seemed to be right. He would take me to school and we would chat on the hot topics of the sports page. And as time went on I got wiser and the conversations got better. But we never agreed on everything. There would be an occasional argument, which most times I lost. You would keep thinking how does he get it right on the nose everytime? I wish I had one last question to ask him, it would go, "How do you get it right everytime?" He made me much wiser and he got me hooked on his opinions so we believed in the same principles of sports. He. like me, was a hockey nut. He was great at teaching the game. He did it for so many years at the local rec center. He taught me the game with a remote and a bowl of ice cream. It worked pretty damn well. Anyway there it was the three phases that made me the sports maniac I am. The 4 am SportsCenter, the daily sports page columns, and my predecessor himself. It was the right combination for me. It still is, except my predecessor is no longer here with us. So to keep up with his traditions I am starting a new blog post that I will publish once a week titled, "The view from the recliner". This post will state what he thought of what was going on and how he thought things should of been handled. Be sure to check for that coming soon. So there ya go. There is my story. I cherished those days. I still cherish those days. I always will. It was in the beginning...