Today the American League Gold Glove Awards will be announced, here are my picks for the AL and National League.
C: Gerald Laird
1B: Mark Teixeira
2B: Placido Polanco
3B: Melvin Mora
SS: Erick Aybar
OF: Carl Crawford
OF: Torii Hunter
OF: Adam Jones
P: Kevin Millwood
C: Yadier Molina
1B: Adrian Gonzalez
2B: Freddy Sanchez
3B: Ryan Zimmerman
SS: Jimmy Rollins
OF: Matt Kemp
OF: Shane Victorino
OF: Jeff Francoeur
P: Adam Wainwright
First of all, congrats to Raul Ibanez for hitting his first homerun as a Philadelphia Phillies player. It’s nice to see a homerun coming off of our bat for once this series.
Heading into the bottom of the seventh, down 10-3, I had lost all hope and figured that the Phillies were going to swept right out of the opening series by the homer-happy Braves. In fact, I was willing to give up on the game once Joe Blanton had a rough third, and even more so ready to throw in the towell when JA Happ gave up the two run shot to Jordan Schafer in the fifth.
Then just as I was about to leave the radio and head off to the gym, Chase Utley blooped a single into center and Ryan Howard was hit by a pitch. I figured that I would stay until the end of the inning. Well, eight runs later I was still sitting at my computer listening to the game.
The Phils bottom of the seventh consisted of five hits, six walks, eight runs, and four Atlanta relievers. The Braves bullpen imploded. They couldn’t find the strikezone and I’m suprised the Phillies aggressive bats let the Braves put that many on. One thing the Phillies didn’t prove to me during the playoffs last season was that they aren’t the team to work the walk. They would swing at ball three or ball four in a 2-2 or 3-1 count. But today, they discovered a patience they never had before and it turned out to be the difference in the ballgame.
In that dreaded seventh inning for the Braves, Eric O’Flaherty, Peter Moylan, Blaine Boyer, and Jorge Campillo surrendered six walks and five singles. All eight runs scored were earned by the Braves pitchers and Moylan and Boyer don’t even have ERA’s.
How clutch did the Eric Bruntlett sac fly turn out to be? In the bottom of the eighth Bruntlett brought home a run as insurance for Brad Lidge. It turned out that it was needed and kept Lidge’s streak alive. Lidge ended up giving up a homerun to Matt Diaz on a slider but no blown save was to be had. Lidge recorded his first save of the year after a slider in the dirt got Garrett Anderson to swing and miss.
“Put this one in the win column for the Fightin’ Phils.”
CHARLIE DOUBLE SWITCHES
Charlie Manuel ended up using the double switch today in that pivotal seventh inning. He sent Matt Stairs up to hit for Carlos Ruiz (maybe a fear factor for the pitcher). Brought Chris Coste in to pinch hit for the pitcher, then sent Coste in to catch and the pitcher spot was now in the eight hole. To anyone that doesn’t know, there was concern that Charlie didn’t know how to use the double switch. Well today he utilized it (even though it wasn’t the usual double-switch situation). I applaud you Uncle Charlie.
Those rings are nice aren’t they? It was awesome to see Pat Burrell back again (I think he got emotional–hence the shades). And yes, we did boo Adam Eaton.
SOUTHPAW SQUAREOFF AT FENWAY
It looks like Scott Kazmir got the best of Jon Lester tonight in Boston. Through four innings, Lester looked great. But then in the fifth, a few flyballs fell in that probably could have been caught. Both flyball “singles” involved Jed Lowrie running backwards and I’m not sure if he got in the way of Jason Bay and Jacoby Ellsbury, but it looked like it. So don’t look at Lester’s five earned and think he got rocked. Although Carlos Pena did rock one pitch on the three run bomb to center.
Jed Lowrie seems to be the goat of the night. There were the flyball situations, and he also struck out twice. Once was with the bases loaded and two outs late in the game. Even if Julio Lugo was healthy, I would stick with Lowrie at short. Who cares about how much he’s getting to sit on the bench? Jed’s the future.
How good does Akinori Iwamura look at the bottom of that lineup? Normally the nine-hole is also called the “second leadoff spot.” Aki, along with Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford combined for nine hits in fourteen at-bats. That will definately make this lineup go as the season progresses and they may be the key.
I look forward to the rest of these Rays/Sox matchups.
Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays
Projected MLB Rank: 12th — AL Rank: 5th — AL East Rank: 3rd — Record: (86-76)
To answer that question, I would say they will shine, just not as bright. It’s hard to match 97 wins no matter who you are. Lead by strong pitching, timely hitting, and a genius manager last season, the Rays will need more of the same if they want to end up playing past October 4.
They are returning with the same core as last season for the most part. A new acquisition is now DH (that’s weird for me to say) Pat Burrell. The world champion slugged 33 homeruns last season and drove in what was left for him after Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, which was 86 runs. Similar to Burrell, only from the left side of the plate, is firstbaseman Carlos Pena. He hit 31 homers last season while leading the team in RBIs with 102. Both Pena and Burrell hit around .250 as well.
Stud youngsters Evan Longoria and BJ Upton also carry threat potential in this lineup. Longoria, only 23, hit 27 homeruns and drove in 85 runs in only 122 games last season. Imagine what he’ll do in a potential 162? Then with Upton, he really showed his true potential in the playoffs last season, despite only hitting .273 with 9 homeruns and driving in 67 during the regular season.
Secondbaseman Akinori Iwamura will likely lead things off for the Rays, and while his stats don’t really infer it–he’s a contact hitter. The anchor behind the plate remains 25 year old Dioner Navarro. He hit around .300 last season and drove in over 50, look for more of the same if not better with him. Hamstring trouble-ridden Carl Crawford should play a full season again as well. I feel like he’s been in the league for a long while, like he should be atleast 30. But he’s still 27!
The Rays boasted the second best ERA in the American League last season (3.82) and it all starts with their solid rotation. It starts with “big-game” James Shields. Shields posed a 3.56 ERA last season while winning 14 games while holding a 1.15 WHIP. He’s a control pitcher who can strikeout batters too.
Looks like the Victor Zambrano for Scott Kazmir deal worked out well for the Mets (sorry, had to take my Mets shot). Kazmir’s becoming a good lefthander and the 25-year old should have a better year than last in which he had a 3.29 ERA and went 12-8. Last year he also struck out 166 batters in about 152 innings. He will be a 20 game winner one day, just maybe not this year.
Matt Garza has the potential to be absolutely filthy, as he was in the minor leagues. Last year he only struck out about six batters per nine innings but showed all of America in the playoffs how good he is by going 2-1 with a strikeout an inning. Andy Sonnanstine, another great control pitcher, will reach the mid-teens in wins and give the Rays a solid WHIP. The fifth rotation spot is up for grabs between Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel. Whoever wins this job should be pitching for about a month and a half because I expect David Price to up in the big leagues by the end of May.
Veteran Troy Percival who’s ERA doesn’t give the correct impression for the job he did for this team last season. Before going down with an injury, he saved 28 games and appeared in 50 games for the Rays. Reliever Dan Wheeler had a nice season while posting a 0.99 WHIP and a 3.12 ERA in 70 games. Southpaw JP Howell is absolutely dirty. In 64 appearances last season, he struck out 92 batters and posted a 2.22 ERA. Hard throwing Grant Balfour should also be effective again coming out of the pen this year. Righthander Joe Nelson joins his fifth team in five years and should post a low ERA with a high strikeout rate. Jason Isringhausen also joins the bullpen and is presenting a really good case to join the roster this spring.
Overall, the Rays do look good this year. It’s hard to argue against 97 wins but this is such a tough division and I don’t think the Rays will be able to win all the close games they won last year. They’re an exciting team and I have them going close to the playoffs–but close doesn’t get you there.
Season Preview: Cincinnati Reds
Projected MLB Rank: 16th — NL Rank: 11th — NL Central Rank: 3rd — Record: (81-81)
Many are calling Cincinnati — “2009’s Rays.” Well this year’s Rays will be the team you won’t suspect — if you know what I mean. The Reds are filled with young stars and quality players, so I can see the connections between the Rays and the Reds. Let’s go further with it and make direct connections (analogies):
Carl Crawford is to Brandon Phillips…
Crawford has been a star in the league and still very young. Phillips had a great season last year and still is young at 27 years old. As long as the Reds are playing at Great American Ballpark, Phillips will continue to look like he has pop. He puts up decent power numbers and has some great speed.
as Carlos Pena is to Ramon Hernandez…
Pena has spent his career on numerous teams and the Reds are Ramon’s fourth. Hernandez has great production potential and is one of the older starters in the lineup. In Cincinnati, he may hit 25 homeruns and drive in 75 runs (and that’s probably not a stretch).
as JP Howell is to Bill Bray…
Both strikeout lefthanders coming out of the bullpen. Bray was considered a possible closer at one point in his minor league career. He’s still only twenty five years old too.
as Evan Longoria is to Joey Votto…
Votto played his first full season in the majors in 2008 and had a very productive year. He batted .297 with 24 homeruns and 84 RBIs. His numbers mirror Longoria’s and Votto has a higher average. Votto is also only 25 years old and will definately improve on his numbers this coming season.
as Scott Kazmir is to Edinson Volquez…
Both great prospects coming up, Volquez strikes out hitters at an alarming rate. He recorded 206 strikeouts last season in ten less innings than strikeouts. He had a 3.21 ERA and went 17-6. Who knows how he will do in 2009 but he will definately help the Reds out.
as Troy Percival is to David Weathers…
Both righthanders approaching 40 years of age while staying relatively successful coming out of their team’s bullpen. Weathers recorded a 3.25 ERA last season with 19 holds.
as BJ Upton is to Jay Bruce…
Bruce played in 108 games last season and had a good rookie season and should definately improve on his .254 average, 21 homeruns, and 52 RBIs. He may experience a sophomore boom or bust, but he will eventually be who the Reds hope he will become.
as Matt Garza is to Johnny Cueto…
Cueto didn’t have a very good season last year but has great stuff. Look for him to also improve upon his 4.81 ERA and 9 wins as he should start over 30 games again this season.
as Eric Hinske is to Alex Gonzalez…
Gonzalez played a total of zero games last season due to injury, but he’s a veteran who’s glove is better than his bat. He will be in competition with Jeff Keppinger for the starting shortstop spot just as Hinske competed for the right field spot most of last season.
as Trever Miller is to Arthur Rhodes…
Both veteran lefty relievers, Rhodes had a great year for the Marlins last year as a lefty out of the bullpen with a 2.04 ERA with 40 strikeouts in about 35 innings.
as Grant Balfour is to Francisco Cordero…
Balfour and Cordero both throw hard. Cordero will remain the closer this year for the Reds after he saved 34 games last season. He struck out 78 batters in about 70 innings with a 3.33 ERA.
The Reds rotation is lead by innings eater Aaron Harang who had a down year last season but is still projected as the Reds ace this season. Bronson Arroyo has also become a staple in this rotation as an innings eater.
This lineup will score a lot of runs and the pitching will keep them in games but I just don’t see this team making the playoffs as the Rays did last season. They’re definately capable of doing (as every team is) but I just think they have a few holes in the lineup and they are still pretty young.