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.
Season Preview: Los Angeles Angels
Projected MLB Rank: 5th — AL Rank: 2nd — AL West Rank: 1st — Record: (93-69)
American League West Champions
So where’s the competition out west for the Angels? The A’s could be considered a challenge, but I think they’re too young this year. The Rangers will never win become a playoff threat until they get some pitching. Then the Mariners, well, I have them ranked last in the league.
So that provides the Angels with a bunch of wins even if their number one and two pitchers are out until about May. Those pitchers, John Lackey and Ervin Santana are two of the best pitchers in the AL. While they’re on the DL, there are five others who will need to fill the void for the time being. Jered Weaver should improve on his 4.33 ERA and 11-10 this season, but nothing drastic. Joe Saunders did a great job for the Halos last season winning 17 games. The lefty also posted a 3.41 ERA in 31 starts. Dustin Moseley will probably be the fifth starter once Lackey and Santana return. Moseley does get roughed up once in a while so there are other options. Nick Adenhart is one of those options, he’s still 22 years old and has some good stuff to do well in the majors but he hasn’t had too much success recently. Shane Loux is another option and will probably start the season in the rotation but once everyone is healthy and back–Loux will be back, in the minor leagues.
Don’t be suprised if Brian Fuentes posts over 50 saves this season. The way the Angels play baseball provides the closers with many chances for saves. Fuentes saved 30 games for Colorado last season along with a 2.73 ERA and almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings. Scot Shields has great stuff and should continue to be effective coming out of the bullpen as he posted a 2.70 ERA last season. Jose Arredondo may be the seventh inning guy. In 52 games last year, the 25 year old compiled a 1.62 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP. Then there’s Darren Oliver who posted a 2.88 ERA last season. Very reliable bullpen.
This lineup is great. Bringing in Bobby Abreu to replace Garrett Anderson was a nice move. The Angels are so outfield heavy now (as Gary Matthews Jr. now has no place to start). Then there’s Torii Hunter, Vlad Guerrero, Chone Figgins and Juan Rivera. The household names.
The players that fly under the radar out in LA will not go unnoticed this season. Secondbaseman Howie Kendrick is a hitter. If he can stay healthy, expect an average over .300 with stolen bases and great defense. Kendry Morales finally gets the firstbase job all to himself. So he will develop this year getting the chances everyday. Mike Napoli presumes to be the starting catcher. He hit 20 homeruns in 78 games last season. If he played a full season, he could even hit 35 homers and put up 75 or so RBIs. He compiled a .586 slugging percentage with an on base percentage 100 points higher than his batting average. Erick Aybar has had a nice spring training and will be at short for his defense this year, but if he starts to get hot at the plate–he will definately be the starter.
All in all, the Angels have the offense and are in the division that can afford to lose their top two starting pitchers for about a month. There’s really not much to the story here. Division champs.
Team Preview: Atlanta Braves
Projected MLB Rank: 14th (t) — NL Rank: 9th (t) — NL East Rank: 3rd (t) — Record: (82-80)
Two pitchers remain from last year’s Atlanta rotation that are expected to make this year’s rotation. The pitching staff as a whole compiled a team ERA of 4.47 last season which was below the league average. With a team that has had a recent tradition of good pitching, a change needed to be made.
Enter Derek Lowe. He will probably become the ace in this rotation. Despite his age, he will continue to have success as long as he keeps his ball down. Last year for the Dodgers, Lowe went 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA throwing for nearly 200 innings in six of his last seven seasons.
Reliability continues with their next offseason acquisition. Javier Vazquez has thrown for nearly 200 innings since 2000 where he’s started at least 30 games every year since then. Vazquez is a strikeout pitcher who can let his ERA get up a little but should do a nice job now being in the National League.
The mystery starter is Japanese free agent signee Kenshin Kawakami. His better days may have passed but he pitches for a low ERA and from what I hear, recorded a career 3.22 ERA in Japan. The returning starters from last season add up to 44 starts for the Braves in 2008. Tom Glavine will be the fifth starter, and may have lost some touch, but he should keep the Braves in games. He only started 13 games last season for Atlanta compiling a 2-4 record with a 5.54 ERA. Jair Jurrjens was in the race for the NL Rookie of the Year as he went 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA last season. Expect more of the same from Jurrjens this season.
Their bullpen could be better. Closer Mike Gonzalez should have a solid season playing a full year in 2009. Expect him to lower his 4.28 ERA. Manny Acosta had a decent season out of the bullpen with a 3.57 ERA in 53 innings as did Jeff Bennett with a 3.70 ERA in about 97 innings. Righty Blaine Boyer (5.88 ERA) and offseason acquisition Boone Logan (5.95 ERA) need to pitch better out of the bullpen for the Braves this season.
The Braves lineup has the potential to do some damage. I think the deciding factor on the success of the offense is on rightfielder Jeff Francoer. Last year, the 25 year old, hit a pitiful .239 with 11 homeruns (yes, he did play a full season). If he can’t find his swing again, the Braves probably won’t be finding October again.
The addition of Garrett Anderson does help but he may end up platooning with Matt Diaz in left. Apart from Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, there’s really nothing too special left in this lineup. Casey Kotchman and Kelly Johnson will give you production and 70-80 RBIs. Yunel Escobar probably won’t improve on his numbers. It’s exciting to watch Josh Anderson as he can steal bases and find his way on base but may end up sharing time in centerfield with Gregor Blanco.
They definately improved their rotation this offseason but in this division, their pitching is still considered average. Their lineup is average but if they all get rolling at the same time, they will make some noise, but in this division, I don’t think October will be where the Braves end up.
Bobby Abreu has signed a one-year deal with the Angels, reportedly at five-million dollars plus incentives. Abreu will be 35 years old on opening day and may have lost some pop and production but his career numbers don’t lie.
Abreu will fit nicely into a lineup that boasts of veteran right-handed power and the Angels desperately needed to replace at least a chunk of the production they lost when Mark Texeira signed with the Yankees.
The signing of Abreu moves Juan Rivera to the DH spot and Abreu, with his speed, will assume left field. Abreu at age 34 stole 22 bases last year for the Yanks. Abreu can be placed anywhere between the three-hole and the five-hole in the Halos lineup. Free agent Garrett Anderson had plenty of success hitting behind slugger Vlad Guerrero so expect expect Abreu’s usual 100 RBIs and maybe high teens/early twenties in homeruns.
The only question I have to the Angels is why another outfielder? You are outfield heavy. Heavy. They’re already paying Vlad $15.5 million this year, Torii Hunter $16.5 million, Gary Matthews Jr. $9.4 million, and they also have Juan Rivera and Reggie Willits. I understand the desperate need for a lefty and a producer–but now they have five outfielders who could legitimately be starters (with the exception of Willits).
If they all stay healthy and start the season looking good, I could see the Angels dealing one of them.
Another productive lefty signed recently as well. Big six foot six inch Adam Dunn takes his powerful bat to the nation’s capital as he signed a two-year twenty-million dollar deal with the Nationals
It was a good move for the Nationals and it makes the already competitive NL East, even more competitive. I still do not see the Nationals contending but maybe they’ll produce 70 wins (still a stretch, I know). They can’t do much worse than the dismal 59 wins they squeezed out in 2008 and Dunn will be a big contributer.
Dunn, 29, has hit atleast 40 homeruns in each season since 2004. He has 278 career homers and 672 RBIs over his 8-year career (mostly with Cincinnati). The Nationals after reportedly preparing huge offers to Mark Texeira and Manny Ramirez, clearly had money and they needed to bring in some kind of production to avoid another 2008. Dunn is their solution. They are also given the option of possibly dealing first-baseman Nick Johnson for some pitching help because I assume Dunn will play first because of Josh Willingham, Lastings Milledge, and Elijah Dukes in the outfield.
The Nats still do not have the pitching to compete and still may be missing some offensive pieces, but they are taking steps in the right direction.