Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 Season Preview: AL Predictions

Now it is the American League's turn for my fearless predictions.

AL East:
This division is as wide open as it has ever been. Any team could finish anywhere from top to the bottom. So this is tough to predict.  Each team is so evenly matched, so I am not sure a wild card team will emerge here as they will beat up on each other all year long.
Toronto Blue Jays made some major off season acquisitions including RA Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.  They had a pretty good lineup last year before injuries cost him and should draw well at Rogers Centre.  The question mark is health and how well these new players mesh together.  Prediction: 1st Place

Tampa Bay Rays missed the playoffs last year despite David Price's Cy Young year. The 2013 version will not have James Shields, B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena. Do they have enough talent to make up for it? Will rookie Will Myers step in and help some? Mgr Joe Madden should continue to work his magic and Evan Longoria, if healthy, could have a MVP caliber season.

New York Yankees won the division but looked very ordinary in the playoffs especially against Detroit. This year's team is a year older and is already hit by injuries with Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixiera. When will Derek Jeter be back. Arod at all? Still have a solid pitching staff, but if an injury occurs, it could become average.

Baltimore Orioles used some Buck Showalter magic to make the playoffs.  It is very hard to repeat the same momentum into the following year though. The close games won the previous year could lead to more losses this year. Still a good team and will contend.

Boston Red Sox made some off season moves in picking up Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Ryan Dempster. Not sure if enough to compete for division title. Sox is more dependent on the return of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Clay Bucholtz to their old forms and the health of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia

AL Central:
Detroit Tigers won the pennant in 2012, but lost in World Series to the Giants. The addition of Torii Hunter and return of Victor Martinez should help out the lineup that was very dependent on Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder a year ago.  Big question mark is the closer.  The dreaded "closer by committee" is being used now.  If it fails, look for GM Dave Dombrowski to get one midseason.  Prediction: 1st Place

Chicago White Sox had the division lead until late in the season. Rookie manager Robin Ventura did a great job a year ago. But the southsiders relied on careers years of A.J. Pierzynski (gone) and Alex Rios to contend, along with timely hitting elsewhere and some good pitching.  Not sure if a repeat performance is in order.

Cleveland Indians are a much improved team from a year ago. New manager Terry Francona has decent nucleus of young guys in Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis. The additions of Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, etc will help also.  They could contend for a playoff spot

Kansas City Royals pulled off a big trade during the off season in picking up pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis from Tampa and veteran Ervin Santana will add depth to the rotation as well.  A good rotation to go along with a fine nucleus of good young hitters, KC could compete for a playoff spot.

Minnesota Twins still have Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, but very little pitching. Another long year ahead for them.

AL West:
Los Angeles Angels made THE off season move in signing Josh Hamilton. The lineup is one of the best in the majors and solid starting pitching led by Jered Weaver and C.J Wilson. My biggest question is the health of closer Ryan Madson,  He is returning from Tommy John surgery and will struggle at times returning to his old form.  Prediction: 1st Place

Texas Rangers lost out on some big names during the winter.  Still return a very good team, but can they make up for the losses of Josh Hamilton and Michael Young?  A Midseason trade could be made. Prediction: Wild Card

Oakland Athletics won the 2012 division crown.  They relied much on rookie pitchers and some major momentum in the second half last year.  Can they repeat the magic?, will these young pitchers continue to succeed?  It will be hard, but in the pitching friendly home ball park, they should contend.

Seattle Mariners had very little hitting and good pitching in 2012.  They tried to solve this with adding batters Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay. Plus moving the outfield fences in.  I am not sure it is enough yet to compete, but will better from a year ago

Houston Astros switched leagues and are thrown into a tough division.. They have a very small payroll and it will show on the field. Going to be a long season as they try to build up talent in the organization.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

2013 Season Preview: NL Predictions

Since it is the almost the end of spring training and most of the rosters are set, I think it is time for my predictions for the upcoming season.  I am going to put my predictions out in the cyber world to be criticized and possibly praised.  Will be curious how I will do compared to the so-called experts of the national media. Today I will be starting with the senior circuit, the National League, and tomorrow, the AL.

National East:
Washington Senators return a very solid team that won the division in 2012.  They were led by a strong pitching staff and timely hitting.  I think this team will improve on the accomplishments from a year ago.  Having 2012 Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper for a full season and pitching ace Stephen Strasburg not having an innings limit, should help on it's own.  Washington also traded for OF Denard Span as a lead off hitter and signed closer Rafael Soriano to add to a very good bullpen.  Prediction: 1st Place

Atlanta Braves is also a very good team that made the playoffs a year ago. Atlanta's biggest off season acquisitions were the Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin, for their outfield.  The Braves still have a very solid ball club, but for me, the biggest question marks is the loss of Chipper Jones, primarily his leadership and possible long term injury to set up man Johnny Venters. Prediction: Wild Card

Philadelphia Phillies had a disappointing year in 2012 mostly because of injuries. If pitcher Roy Halladay, 1B Ryan Howard and 2B Chase Utley all return to their old form, or close to it, they should compete.  Remember they still have Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon on their pitching staff.  Off season pick ups Ben Revere and Michael Young should help in the run production.

New York Mets are still rebuilding and the loss of Johan Santana does not help.
Miami Marlins, well they have Giancarlo Stanton....for now..

NL Central:
Cincinnati Reds won the division last season and should compete again for it. They added OF Shin Soo Choo from Cleveland and decided wisely to keep Aroldis Chapman as their closer instead of converting him as a starter.   Prediction: 1st Place

St Louis Cardinals won a wild card spot and beat the Braves in a one game playoff game a year ago.  I am not sure if they have enough to make up for the loss of starters Kyle Lohse and Chris Carpenter. If Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia are healthy and the young arms of Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller do well, St Louis could win the division. 

Milwaukee Brewers added Kyle Lohse late in spring training to their rotation, which should compliment Yovani Gallardo quite well.  Brewers still have MVP candidate Ryan Braun, but I don't think they have enough to make the playoffs

Pittsburgh Pirates are slowly becoming a better and better team each year.  C Russell Martin should help some and if 2012 rookie Starling Marte emerges as a bonafide run producer to go with OF Andrew McCutchen, it would make them even better.  The X-factors for Pittsburgh are starters Francisco Liriano and Johnathan Sanchez and closer Jason Grilli.  If these guys have solid years, Pittsburgh could compete for division to the end.  Rookies Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon could help late in season also

Chicago Cubs are slowly adding young talent. Sometimes it takes awhile. Javier Baez and Jorge Soler could be future stars but could be a year or so away.  Cubs fans stay loyal, one of these "next years" could actually be here.

NL West:
San Francisco Giants won it all last year behind MVP Buster Posey and a solid starting rotation.. They return just about the same roster from a year ago. My worries is Pablo Sandoval's weight, which if not maintained could lead to subpar season for him and will the magic be there from a year ago?  They did win a lot of close games. They will compete to the very end for a division title or wild card spot.  Prediction:  Wild Card

Los Angeles Dodgers went on a shopping spree late last season and into the winter.  So, they have a deep roster of stars, but will they work well together and stay healthy?  I have an idea that the Dodgers will do whatever it takes to win the division.  Prediction: 1st place

Arizona Diamondbacks made some moves in the off season to better fit the personality of manager Kirk Gibson. They should play hard and compete for the divison for awhile. Do they have enough horses to win the division, especially if injuries hit them?

San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies round out the division and don't have enough to compete. San Diego has better pitching than Colorado, which makes them a bit better.. Colorado may end up trading stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez for rebuilding. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

In Memoriam: Virgil "Fire" Trucks

On Tuesday, former pitcher Virgil Trucks passed away at the age of 95.  He pitched from 1941-58, primarily for the Detroit Tigers. His career record was 177-135 with an ERA of 3.39 and with 1,534 strikeouts.  Trucks was also a 2 time All Star and 1945 World Series Champion with the Tigers. He also lead league in shutouts twice and his lone 20 win season was in 1954, splitting the season with the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Browns.

1949 Bowman
He is most famous for pitching two no hitters in one season for the Tigers in 1952.  He played for a terrible Tigers team that year who ended up losing 104 games and Trucks finished the season with a 5-19 record and ERA of 3.97.  His two no-hitters in one season was previously accomplished only by Johnny Vander Meer in 1938 and Allie Reynolds in 1951 and since by Nolan Ryan in 1973 and Roy Halladay in 2010.  He pitched his gems against Washington Senators on May 15 and New York Yankees on Aug 25. His no-hitter vs New York is the last complete game no-no for an opposing pitcher against the Yankees in New York.  Also, Justin Verlander is the only other Tiger throw two career no hitters.

Trucks missed nearly two seasons for military service in World War II.  He was released from the Navy less than two weeks prior the 1945 World Series vs the Chicago Cubs.  MLB waived the rule of a player having to be a part of the roster prior to September 1 in order to be eligible to play in the post season.  Trucks started and won Game 2 for the Tigers.  He was the only one person in MLB history until Chris Carpenter in 2012 to win a post season game without winning one during the regular season.

On a personal level and for you music lovers, one other fact about Trucks is that he the uncle of Butch Trucks, one of the founding members of the Allman Brothers and his grand nephew is Derek Trucks of the Derek Trucks Band.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Baseball Ad: Dick's Sporting Goods

As I was watching my favorite college basketball team on television last night, the above advertisement for Dick's Sporting Goods aired.  I thought it showed the subtle nuances of the game that a casual fan may not pick up on quite well.
When you watch a game on tv, you are only shown what is broadcasted and what is told by the announcing crew, but there is more going on during the game.  Between each pitch, the manager and coaching staff are playing a chess match against each other in terms of which play to execute and also thinking of strategies for upcoming batters and innings.  Players are also adjusting their field position accordingly to a batter's strengths and weaknesses and will move not only for batter to batter, but also for pitch to pitch.  For example, if the fielder knows that an offspeed pitch will be thrown, he would move a couple steps to adjust for the batter to pull the ball.
As this is going on, the hitter and baserunner(s) are watching and could get an idea of what the pitcher is going to throw.  Can he drive the ball to knock in a run or two or hit behind the runner in order to advance him a base. Is his teammate on the basepath going to steal or trying to get a big lead? Is he trying to distract the pitcher? Is trying get that extra base on a hit? Will the hitter need to take a pitch to allow him to steal? Did he get bad jump? Does he need to swing to protect the baserunner?   And the runner is looking at the position of the fielders and see if he can get the extra base on a base hit. Thinking of stealing on the pitcher and catcher and if he does, will that take the bat of the hand of the hitter.  The runner is also working his lead of his base and trying to study the pitcher's move to home and base.
So, when you are watching a game, don't assume the players are standing in one spot and waiting for the ball to be hit. Each player is taking a mental inventory of all the things above between each pitch and batter. There is a lot of action in the inaction on the field because of the constant adjusting and communicating between teammates and the coaching staff. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

2013 Season Preview: Rookies

The 2012 rookie class was one of  better ones in recent years with players such as Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Yeonis Cespedes, Manny Machado and Japanese import Yu Darvish. The 2013 may not have the star power from the previous year, but it should be quite talented.  Here is some players who could become household names or have an impact on their respected ball clubs.
2013 Topps

Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar is considered to be the top prospect of baseball.  The 20 year old made his major league debut last season.  He showed the Rangers he belonged by hitting a home run in his first major league at bat. The problem with Profar is where to play him. Right now, Texas is set with Elvis Andrus at shortstop and Ian Kinsler at second base.
Will Myers is an outfielder for Tampa Bay Rays and was the key component in the trade for James Shields from the Kansas City Royals.  He has the tools to become a future all star and has put up impressive stats in minor leagues. He should be close to major league ready and Tampa has an opening with the departure of B.J. Upton.

A couple starting pitchers who made their major league debuts in 2012 and still retain rookie status for this upcoming season are Baltimore's Dylan Bundy and St. Louis' Shelby Miller.  Both have top of the rotation stuff and is very close to being ready for a spot in a big league rotation.  It is a matter of having an opportunity for both them, and Miller seems to have more of one with the injury to Chris Carpenter and loss of Kyle Lohse,
The Cardinals also have a big time talent in the OF with Oscar Taveras.  The 20 year old has power and speed and is still harnessing his talents for the big leagues. The Cardinals can be patient with him as they have an OF of Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Jon Jay.
The Detroit Tigers have a couple outfielders who they are high on:  Avisail Garcia and converted 3B Nick Castelllanos.  Both have power from the right side of the plate that could compliment lefty Andy Dirks in a platoon situation. They are still quite young and need every day at bats and may start in Triple A Toledo. Another reason they may start in minors is Jeff Kobernus. He is a Rule 5 draftee and must be on the big league roster or will be returned to his original team. Kobernus is a righty who could play both OF and 2B and has plenty of speed. He could be 2013's version of Quinten Berry for the Tigers.
Speaking of speed, no one in the minors has more than Billy Hamilton of the Reds.  He set a minor league record 155 stolen bases in 132 games. He is still very raw and has no power. Reds have made him into an OF from SS, which should help him make the big league roster sooner.
Pittsburgh has a couple top draft picks who are about major league ready in pitchers Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. They are not quite ready for a spot in the rotation, but by the end of year, they could be help out the Pirates.
These are some of the names to look out for during the 2013 major league season.  Most of them may not make their big league club right of spring training, but could have a big impact on pennant races.  Don't be upset with your favorite team if they do start in the majors. Remember both Mike Trout and Bryce Harper both started the season in the minors and end up winning the Rookie of the Year awards.