I’m here on my family vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. And I had some downtime so I figured rather than sleep or look at the clouds that are eye level outside our mountain house, I would blog.
And okay, caught me, I said I wouldn’t be posting again until I got back to school, but.. I am. I figured I would post some of my predictions for the rest of the season. Note: These are my predictions as of August 5th, I reserve the right to change my mind as the season progresses, after all–it is my blog.
The NL West goes to the Dodgers, that was hard.
The Phillies are in quite a slump. They’re not hitting, not pitching all too well, and making an error here and there. The greeting card sitting at Cliff Lee‘s locker when he arrived at CBP Tuesday might have read: “Welcome to town, Mr. Lee! We’ll continue to win once every fifth day when you’re out on the mound and maybe not even win then, if our offense doesn’t get going!” Lets hope that Lee didn’t bring the funk that the whole Cleveland Indians team is going through to Philly. I’m just playing around, teams go through valleys and reach mountain peaks throughout the season and I’m hoping the Phils are just in a small valley. My guess is that the Phils don’t suffer from Tribe Syndrome, turn it around in the coming week, and win the NL East.
If the Rangers had more than Dustin Nippert and Kevin Millwood then I would seriously consider them in the West over the Angels. But since they don’t, I got the Halos.
One of the best races to watch may be that AL Central. It is going to come down to what pitching staff steps up and holds off each opponent because the Tigers, White Sox, and Twins all scrap until the end to win baseball games. I love the punches Buerhle, Danks, and Floyd but the combination of Mauer and Morneau is lethal as well. So lets knock off who leads the division right now, the Detroit Tigers. They’re near the back of the AL in a bunch of categories and in the long haul, that won’t get you to the playoffs. So if its White Sox vs. Twins, advantage: Twins. They are 7-5 against the ChiSox this year.
The case for the Colorado Rockies (in a few sentences):
They have the pitching finally as their rotation has really come together this season even when Jeff Francis went down before the season started. Seth Smith and Dexter Fowler are maturing in the majors. They’ve always had the middle-of-the-lineup bats to drive in the guys that get on base before them. Todd Helton is healthy. They have more home games left than any other NL contender. They’re my NL wild card pick.
Why not the Giants?
This makes me feel like a HUGE hypocrite. I usually am all about pitching. Pitching wins, pitching wins, pitching wins. That’s what I lay my baseball foundation on. The Giants have one of the best staffs in the National League. AND they just upgraded their awful offense AND they’re now scoring runs. They do have some great young players but I’m not sure that I can see this team playing in October. Maybe because I’ve never seen Freddy Sanchez there. Haha. Speaking of which…
Poor Pirates fans. But only the Pirates fans because Pittsburgh’s won two other championships this year. Jerry Crasnick, of ESPN.com, wrote a great article about the dismantling of this team here: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=crasnick_jerry&id=4373943.
Lets get to the touchy subject, the AL East. The Red Sox own the Yankees this year, but the Rays own the Red Sox, but the Yankees lead the division. Huh? Yea, this is a tough division to choose. The Yankees score 0.29 more runs per game than the Red Sox and 0.32 more than the Rays. The Sox ERA is 0.06 better than the Rays and 0.39 better than the Yanks. My guess is that the Yanks lose their game and a half lead to the Red Sox.
Then since the Yankees play in a park where an everyday flyout to right is homerun, I say they win the wild card. Followed closely by Tampa Bay who put themselves in too big of a hole to start to season. My same reasoning for why the Rangers don’t win the West is the same reasoning I’m using here for the wild card.
This may be preaching to the choir, but the Cardinals really bolstered their lineup at the deadline. It is a top tier NL lineup now. As long as the pitching keeps the Cards in games I see the additions of Mark DeRosa, Julio Lugo, and Matt Holliday paying off and getting the Cards into October. Sorry Cubbies.
So as of now, my playoff pairings guess goes:
Twins at Red Sox
Rockies at Phillies
Yankees at Angels
Cardinals at Dodgers
This week’s power rankings.
1. St. Louis Cardinals (17-8) (2)
Apart from the Pirates, the Cards have the league’s lowest ERA at 3.57 and continue to win ballgames.
2. Toronto Blue Jays (18-9) (1)
They’re still in first place in the AL East. They’re 7-2 in one run affairs and have the highest batting average in the majors thus far.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (18-8) (4)
Chad Billingsley is leading a pitching that was supposed to be a question mark. The Dodgers also boast a 3.93 team ERA.
4. Boston Red Sox (15-10) (3)
Kevin Youkilis is now hitting .407 even though the team just had a rough series in Tampa.
5. Kansas City Royals (14-11) (7)
Zack Greinke is being dubbed “the best pitcher in baseball” and the bullpen is really coming together. I think its up for grabs in this division. Keep up the success and pitching and its theirs for the taking.
6. Seattle Mariners (15-10) (5)
They won yesterday in the millionth inning, and did it by coming back. Once John Lackey and Ervin Santana are back in the Halos rotation, I don’t expect the Mariners to stay at the top.
7. Chicago Cubs (13-11) (8)
Hoping to get going like they should, they are coming off three straight wins against the Marlins but Big Z going down (after he bunted for a hit?) will definately hurt the rotation.
8. Florida Marlins (14-11) (10)
As I said, they’re currently on a three game skid and look to turn it around this week against the Reds, Braves, and Rockies.
9. Philadelphia Phillies (12-10) (Pushing)
Split against the Mets this weekend but still need to get that pitching down. Someone also needs to put the Cole Hamels voodoo doll down.
10. New York Yankees (13-11) (NR)
Mark Teixiera’s hitting around .200 and the Yanks are still scoring the most runs per game, imagine what will happen when he starts to raise that average.
Pushing the Ten: Milwaukee Brewers (13-12)
Detroit Tigers (13-11)
Pittsburgh Pirates (12-12)
The Month in Review: April
Every April, year after year, there are the big suprises (teams or players) that get off to hot starts and there are also the disappointments of the month. One thing for sure is that, the MLB season is a lengthy one. Teams are given 162 chances and then the playoffs to prove that they are the best and the best teams will win the divisions and the worst teams will finish last. That’s what makes the game so great, the fact that there are so many chances to prove that you are the best. According to descriptive statistics, Major League Baseball is the sport that gives the best chances at seeing the true best team in the league (descriptive statistics involve the collection of data).
April provides the suprises by underdogs and by the unexpected players. It involves dissapoint from the supposive “good” teams and slow starts by perennial all stars. Here are my thoughts on the month that was.
American League: Mike Lowell
The power behind the big Boston win streak, Lowell is third in the league with 23 RBIs. He is also hitting .310 and has four homeruns in the first month. He seems to have recovered from his injury just fine and do the Red Sox ever need him to be hitting like this or what.
National League: Adrian Gonzalez
He has nine homeruns and twenty RBIs for the 11-11 Padres. A great hitter with a great approach at the plate leads the National League in homers. He’s also slugging .704 with an OBP of .438.
April Cy Youngs
American League: Zack Greinke
Well, I talk about him later here but he is 5-0 with 44 strikeouts and leads the league with a 0.50 ERA.
National League: Johan Santana
Maybe if the Mets bullpen could hold together for him, he would have another win. He is 3-1 with the best ERA in the National League (1.10) and is tied with Greinke for the most strikeouts in the league.
Team that suprised: Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays are the one team in the AL East that I did not expect. I thought their offense was too unproductive (although I do think Adam Lind and Travis Snider are going to be great) and I thought the loss of Burnett killed them. Well, they have had different ideas throught the first month of the season as the offense is the best in the American League thus far and the pitching has certianly stepped up as pitchers with injuries have gone down.
Team that disappointed: New York Mets
This offense was supposed to produce runs and keep them in games as the back end of their rotation is shaky. But they are less than average and have a 9-12 record so far. The Mets with their revamped ‘pen are also 4-5 in one-run affairs which doesn’t give me much confidence that they’ll win close ballgames.
Best story: Zack Greinke
Right now, he poses a threat for the pitching triple crown. The first MLB pitcher to reach the five win mark also leads the league in ERA and is tied for the lead league in strikeouts with Johan Santana. His 0.50 ERA was all zeros going into his fifth start as well. He’s the leader of a great rotation in Kansas City that consists of Gil Meche, Kyle Davies, Sidney Ponson, and Horacio Ramirez. Okay, so maybe Ponson and Ramirez need to work on a few things, but if Davies can keep up what he’s done thus far, those Royals lead by Greinke, will be in the October hunt because pitching wins. Perhaps the best part of this story is that Greinke overcame depression and anxiety disorder to get to where he’s been today.
Best moment: Ellsbury steals home
In the final game of a heck of a series last weekend, Jacoby Ellsbury took off on a straight steal of home against veteran Andy Pettite. In a rivalry series, on primetime television, in a tie game, only making it a walkoff steal would have made it better, but hey, you can’t have everything. As I said in my most recent Monday Ten post, I didn’t even see it live but I had to watch the steal over and over online once I heard about it. The steal of home just capped off a great series for the Sox against the Bombers as they swept them right out of Boston.
Questions to Consider:
Feel free to answer these questions as comments as well, I want to know what you all think.
1. Will the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to lead the entire league in ERA?
No, the ERA has risen over the past week as the Buccos are on a three-game skid. Expect some more of those.
2. Will Wandy Rodriguez keep up his performance thus far?
Well a 1.69 ERA is good, but the 2-2 record basically explains how good the team is. I’ll answer this by saying the Astros need him to keep it up.
3. Over/Under Nats wins: 50
4. Over/Under Mariners ERA after May: 3.50
5. Who will be leading the AL Central at the All Star break?
Still too early to tell, but I’ll say the White Sox.
6. When will the Rays start to turn it around?
Right now, did you see Matt Garza last night.
7. Who/what will give up more homeruns, the Phillies at home or Yankee Stadium?
8. When will the Cubbies listen to Alfonso Soriano and get back to 2008 form?
Mid-May. They’re too good for this.
It is said that April showers bring May flowers. If you consider this past April showers, then these flowers are going to be some good ones.
The slug-it-out festival was held last night at The Park and the Phillies, somehow, came out victorious over the Nats.
They caught me. I admit I gave up on last night’s game on three seperate occasions. In the second inning, the third inning, and once again in the eighth. But that offense never ceases to amaze me. Grandslams by Ryan Howard in the fifth to tie the game up at six and Raul Ibanez in the eighth to take the lead brought amazement to my mind.
When I saw Ibanez was coming to the plate last night in the eighth with the bases loaded, I found myself unconcerned and comfortable with the situation. Well what do you know, he took a first pitch right around the right field foul pole for the grandslam.
He’s just a ballplayer. That’s the best way to describe him. That’s how I heard him described as prior to him coming to the Phillies, and that’s how I hear of him now. That’s how I see him now. He has a great approach at the plate, makes plays in the field (Sunday against Fla.), and overall, he plays to win the game.
This is certainly is a team. They pick eachother up. Right now the pitching is struggling, but the offense picks them up and has carried them. This offensive attack, who leads the National League in runs scored per game, has been lead so far by Ibanez. I heard that a Philly paper this morning read, Raul the Bat. Playing off of Pat Burrell’s former nickname, Pat the Bat. Well we aren’t missing him when we have Raul.
Don’t get me wrong though, Pat Burrell will forever be a hero in this town and what he did for us was amazing and he will always be welcome here.
But Ibanez has been tearing apart the ball thus far, here’s the comparisons:
Ibanez .342 AVG 18 R 5 2B 6 HR 16 RBI 8 BB 3 SB .402 OBP .685 SLG
Burrell .238 AVG 6 R 2 2B 1 HR 8 RBI 13 BB 0 SB .364 OBP .317 SLG
It’s not even close. I’ll trade five more walks for ten more hits. It does sadden me a bit to see Burrell off to a slow start in Tampa Bay because I do want to see him succeed there. But at the same time, bringing in Raul makes Ruben Amaro Jr. look genius.
Hopefully Ibanez, not Burrell, will continue to make Amaro look that way. I want to see Pat start to pick it up.
Season Preview: Boston Red Sox
Projected MLB Rank: 2nd — AL Rank: 1st — AL East Rank: 1st — Record: (97-65)
American League East Champions
They have all the makings of a championship run. They’ve done it before, why not again? With a strong rotation and a strong lineup, this team will do special things this season if they can stay healthy.
Starting with the rotation, it is lead by Josh Beckett who needs to stay away from injury (which wasn’t the case last season). The Sox might be able to afford one DL stint, because of the depth they have in their rotation with Clay Buchholz and John Smoltz, but nothing more from the righthander. Daisuke Matsuzaka had a Cy Young caliber year last season posting a 2.90 ERA and going 18-3. He still has some control issues, but seems to work his way out of every jam he gets himself into.
Lefty Jon Lester is poised for a breakout season. Entering his fourth season with in the big leagues, Lester had his best season last year with 3.21 ERA and 16 wins. I’m expecting a great year out of the Red Sox future ace. Then there’s Tim Wakefield. I don’t know how he keeps doing it. Last year, the 42 year old had solid numbers. The knuckleballer posted a 4.13 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP and a .228 BAA. A great back of the rotation guy. The fifth starter is going to be Brad Penny (for now). He had a rocky year last year but has been throwing well and hard this spring. By mid-season, Clay Buchholz might be back in the rotation if all doesn’t go well for Penny.
The Red Sox boast one of the best bullpens in the American League. Largely to the fact that Jonathan Papelbon has solidified himself as one of the best closers in the game today. His 41 saves, 2.34 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 77 strikeouts in 69 innings last year prove just that. It seems as if Justin Masterson never gets a shot in the rotation (even though he started nine games last year). The 24 year old posted a 3.16 ERA last season in 36 total games and I’m guessing he will be Papelbon’s set up man this year.
Bringing in Takashi Saito may be one of the most underrated moves of the offseason. Saito posted a 2.49 ERA with the Dodgers before going down to injury. He’s 39 and has save experience, which is never a negative. Now lefty-specialist, Hideki Okajima, will provide reliability out of the bullpen this year as he saved his stats with a solid second half ending the year with a 2.61 ERA in 64 appearences. Then there’s Manny Delcarmen. He throws hard and last year in over 70 games the righthander posted a 3.27 ERA. Javier Lopez also had a fine season with a 2.43 ERA in 70 games and Ramon Ramirez comes in from KC where he posted a 2.64 ERA in almost 72 innings.
What a pitching staff.
Jacoby Ellsbury has got to get on base more if he wants to stay the leadoff hitter, and this year he will have every day to do it no that Coco Crisp was shipped south. Ellsbury’s .336 OBP isn’t a leadoff man’s OBP. Once he starts taking walks, expect his 50 stolen bases to be the low of his career for a bunch of years. Reigning AL MVP Dustin Pedrioa will put up more MVP caliber seasons no matter how tall he is. There’s those guys that you just win with and Dustin is one of them. His .326 average and 118 runs scored were most likely brought him the award, along with his solid fielding at the four position.
Fellow MVP candidate, Kevin Youkilis, is entering his sixth season at the big league level. In 2008, his .312 average, 29 homeruns, 115 RBIs, and .569 slugging percentage proved his value to this team as well. David Ortiz should rebound from his down year. It’s funny that a down year for him is 89 RBIs and a .539 slugging percentage.
I think that Jason Bay will absolutely flourish in this lineup. I’m expecting higher production total in 2009 to couple with his .286 average, .373 OBP, and .522 slugging percentage. Then JD Drew, he’ll flourish too, if he’s ever healthy for a full season. Mike Lowell is getting older but he’s got the possibility to drive in 100 from the six or seven hole. Jed Lowrie is a solid option at shortstop as the 24 year old has showed production potential in the minors. Then Jason Varitek is back behind the plate. Who cares if he hits .220, Tek’s the captain. The Sox also have one of the more solid benches in the league.
Overall, there’s nothing to not like about this team if healthy. Even with a small DL stint from a few players I can still see this team winning the division. No Yankees. No Rays. Just Red Sox.
Today the Tigers released Gary Sheffield due to the fact that they would like more versatility out of the DH spot. Sheffield didn’t see it coming, and according Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, Sheffield can still hit but he just wasn’t the right fit for Detroit this coming season. So where is the right fit for Gary?
The Current Option
As soon as Sheffield was let go by the Tigers, Geoff Jenkins was cut by the Phils and GM Ruben Amaro reached out to Sheff because the Phils have been looking for a righthanded bat off the bench all offseason. Whether Sheffield is willing to come off the bench is the question. Personally, I don’t want him. He was one of my favorite players while with the Marlins but I just don’t want him on the Phils. They have a good clubhouse chemistry right now and Sheffield has been known to cause a stir in a clubhouse here and there. Considering the fact he wouldn’t be starting, he would probably be cause a problem. I don’t like or want him on the Phillies.
Ray of Sunshine Option
Tampa Bay Rays
Gabe Gross doesn’t exactly turn heads but they did bring in Matt Joyce this offseason as well. I don’t think Sheffield goes here either but there is potential. Tampa Bay seems to be an “end of the career” stop for many future Hall of Famers.
The Unrealistic Option
How cool would it be to see him back in teal to hit his 500th homerun. He hit 122 homeruns while with the Marlins from 1993 to 1998. He just doesn’t really fit there either. The corner outfield spots seem to belong to Cody Ross and Jeremy Hermida. I just think it would be cool to go off as a Marlin, and maybe go into the Hall of Fame a Marlin (he did win a World Series there).
Basically, I don’t see him fitting in anywhere. I’d like to see him in Florida, but we all know that’s not going to happen. He’ll find a team if he doesn’t demand at bats and is willing to come off the bench but whether he faces that fact and finds a team before the season starts is beyond me.
THANKS GEOFF JENKINS
As I mentioned earlier, Jenkins was released by the Phillies today. They owed him 8 million dollars on his contract. As much of a let down he was in Philly (.246 average / 9 homeruns / 29 RBIs), I would still like to thank him for the good attitude he held throughout the season while not starting and for his game five heroics in the World Series.
Jenkins was always on the fence of the dugout cheering on his teammates and was always congratulating guys coming into the dugout. Whenever you look at a picture of the Phillies winning a series in the playoffs, he was on the field celebrating with the regulars before everyone else on the bench (heck I even think he beat Rollins to the mound for the celebration once).
Also, he got the first at-bat in part two of game five in the World Series and crashed a double off the wall to get things going. It was one of the best moments of the playoffs for me because he had struggled all season and lost his platoon job when Werth became the everyday starter. Then he got up to the plate and took full advantage of the situation (I thought it was gone initially).
So honestly Jenkins, Thanks and I wish you luck elsewhere.
CHAN HO EARNS FIFTH STARTER SPOT
Chan Ho Park remains the last one standing. He beat out Carlos Carrasco, Kyle Kendrick, and lastly JA Happ to the fifth spot in the rotation to start the season. Their spring totals:
Park: 2-0 — 2.53 ERA — 25 SO — 2 BB — 21.1 INN
Happ: 0-0 — 3.15 ERA — 14 SO — 6 BB — 20 INN
It was awful close and personally, I wanted Happ to be our fifth starter because he is the future and he showed flashes of reliability last season in eight games. But it’s also hard to argue with 25 strikeouts in about 21 innings and only two walks. Keep up the good work Chan Ho, because in this town, there’s a short leash.
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.