MLB Preseason Outlook: NL East

Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals look in good position to challenge for the division title this season.

The Eastern division of the National League will provide an entertaining race this season.  With the NL East featuring the wheeling-and-dealing Washington Nationals, the new look Miami Marlins, and the sideshow organization that is the New York Mets, you’d be hard pressed to find a dull moment in this division this season.  The Philadelphia Phillies ran away with the division last year with the best record in baseball, and the Atlanta Braves had their shot to get into the playoffs as a Wild Card, but let an 8.5 game lead slip as the St. Louis Cardinals stole the playoff berth.  All said, the Braves finished 13 games behind the Phillies, and the Nationals finished 8.5 games behind Atlanta.  This year could produce a different story as a result of the numerous offseason moves in the division.

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Baseball Season’s Underway

Baseball fans, get ready for a brand new day: spring training has begun in Arizona and Florida for all thirty MLB teams.  As a baseball fan, I’ve been counting down the days until pitchers and catchers report to their respective camps; it is here where questions and speculations get answered.  Who’s going to lead the rotation?  Who’s going to play first base on opening day, and who’s going to start the season in AAA?  Who’s going to bat leadoff?  Will Yoenis Cespedes measure up to the hype?  All of these questions will be answered by the end of March when the spring training games have been played, but for now, the players are gathered only for team workouts.

For these first few weeks, it’s just players taking their cuts in the cage for batting practice, and pitchers limbering up throwing off the mound, but for fans, this is enough.  The baseball season ended in October (September if you’re a Braves or Red Sox fan, May if you’re an Astros fan), and through the winter all that was available to talk about was what happened in the season, what your team needed to do over the offseason, and then count down the days until spring training started.  And now, the days made for nine inning escapes from the daily grind are back.

Baseball is a special sport because it never stops.  If games aren’t being played, then teams are trading players, and when teams are trading, fans have something to talk about. With the start of spring training, we now sit at the start of the cycle, which holds all of the hopes and none of the crushed dreams that the end of the regular season holds.  At this point, the division is still winnable, the League Championship Series can still be reached, and the World Series can still be captured- in theory, of course.

So sit back and enjoy the promise of the season ahead. Your team is still in first place, and your seat in the stadium is waiting to join with the masses in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Texas Rangers Sign Yu

The MLB Winter Meetings last month brought much discussion about free agents and their possible destinations. All eyes were on first baseman Albert Pujols who ended up going to the Angles for a ten-year, 240-million-dollar contract.  The Angels weren’t quite done there; they also picked up All Star pitcher and Texas Rangers rotation front man C.J. Wilson for a five-year, 77.5-million-dollar contract.

Losing Wilson is a big blow for the Rangers. Even though they have a solid pitching rotation, Wilson was the best of the bunch.  Prior to losing Wilson, Texas signed closer Joe Nathan, which allowed them to move the hard throwing Neftali Feliz from his role as closer into the starting rotation for support.  After the Nathan signing, Wilson signed a new contract as a free agent with the Angels, which left the Rangers with a gap to fill.  The team responded by signing young Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, who had recently submitted himself to the posting process for an MLB team to sign him. Read more of this post

NLCS Outlook

Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals, it’s a Central Division affair for a spot in the World Series.  I expect great baseball from this series, two teams that know each other very well, and both winning fantastic game five series to punch their ticket forward.  The Cardinals surprised me winning their series against Philadelphia, but the thing that got them through was great pitching and situation hitting.  The Brewers won their series by a little home cooking, cementing their status as the league’s best team at home by winning their three home games to advance against Arizona.  The key for Milwaukee to make their first WS appearance since 1982 is to limit the damage done by Albert Pujols, but to also remember it’s not just about stopping him; batting behind Pujols is Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and David Freese in that order, all of which are dangerous.  For the Cardinals, it’s going to be crucial for them to steal a win in Milwaukee, and pitch smartly around this lineup as each batter knows how to hit in crucial situations.  My pick: Milwaukee wins in 7.

Division Series Recap and ALCS Overview

Last week was a fantastic week of baseball, culminating with 3 game fives in the Divisional Series between the Tigers and Yankees, the Diamondbacks and Brewers and the Cardinals and Phillies.  No matter how exciting the Divisional Series were, I still highly dislike best-of-five series because they’re just too short in my opinion (as a fan of an eliminated team).  Last week, I attempted to predict the four series, and before I go into my Championship Series picks, I’ll recap the NLDS and ALDS series.  Read more of this post

NL Divisional Series Outlook

As you may or may not remember, there are two leagues in the MLB: The American League which has taken the forefront and has garnered most of the media attention over the past few days, and the National League which begins it’s two divisional series this afternoon.  The NL has four hard hitting teams representing them this year, and I’m going to look into the NLDS and pick the two teams I think will advance.

 

-Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68, NL West Champions) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (96-66, NL Central Champions)

It’s hard to believe that it was ten years ago that a team made a World Series appearance within 5 years of being established as an expansion team, and defeated one of the most well established teams in the league.  That fledgling team was the Arizona Diamondbacks who defeated the Yankees in an emotional and thrilling seven game series.  This year, you can bet that the D-Backs are hoping to make their first WS appearance since that year, but to do that they’re going to have to defeat the Milwaukee Brewers at least once at home, a tough task seeing that the Brewers had a league best 57-24 record at home.  Milwaukee is sending Yovani Gallardo this afternoon, and the Diamondbacks will retaliate with Ian Kennedy, two pitchers who expect to be backed up solidly by their lineups.  The key to this series for both teams is to keep the ball in the yard, as both of these lineups hit the ball hard.  The D-Backs hit Justin Upton, Miguel Montero, and Chris Young 3-4-5 who hit 31, 18, and 20 home runs this year respectively.  The Brewers will hit Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Rickie Weeks 3-4-5 who hit 33, 38, and 20 home runs this year; and as an added bonus have Corey Hart leading off , who hit 26 homers.

My pick: This series is going to be a score fest, and I’m picking Milwaukee to outslug the D-Backs in 4.  Bonus: both teams have retractable roofs, so no rain delays in this series.

 

-St. Louis Cardinals (90-72, Wild Card) vs. Philadelphia Phillies (102-60, NL East Champions)

The Phillies have a lot of expectations riding on them in this series, as they look to make their fourth consecutive NL Championship Series appearance in their last five playoff trips.  Going into this season, many people saw them as the team to beat with their “R2C2″ pitching rotation (Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels) and that pitching staff certainly did not disappoint.  Philadelphia led the league in pitching with a 3.02 team ERA, and a team 1.17 WHIP.  The Cardinals were a team that struggled to find their stride this season, but picked it up where it counted to make their way into the playoffs on the last day of the season and will hope to carry that momentum with them and make their first NLCS appearance since 2006, the same year they defeated the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.  The Cardinals are going to need for their lineup to keep up the pace that landed them with the 6th best team batting average of .264 against Philadelphia’s rotation to win this series.

My pick: This will be an interesting series to watch, and I’m picking Philadelphia to win this series in 4, if not 3.

AL Divisional Series Outlook

The last night of the season has set a pretty high mark for the postseason to follow, and while the next few weeks might not exactly match that excitement, I’m still looking forward to the playoffs.  The current 5-7-7 playoff format is an easy one to hate when your team is 0-6 in their last two playoff appearances, but it applies a great pressure to win early, and to win at home to protect home field advantage.  Over the past few years in the MLB, the playoffs have been great to watch, and I don’t think this year will be any different.

 

-Tampa Bay Rays (91-71, Wild Card ) vs. Texas Rangers (96-66, AL West Champions)

Well, this looks familiar doesn’t it?  Last year the Rays won the AL East and faced the Rangers who won the AL West that year as well, the difference between last year’s series and this year’s is that the Rangers have home field advantage.  Last year’s Divisional Series was one of the oddest series that I had seen in a while- a five game bash fest, in which the away team won each game (Rangers won that series).   The road team scored at least 5 runs in all five games of the series last year, and this year I simply don’t think the same thing will happen.  The Rays are trotting out “super stud” rookie pitcher Matt Moore who made quite a meteoric rise from AA Montgomery to Tampa Bay, tying the AAA Durham Bulls single game strikeout record with 13 Ks along the way, and the Rays will follow him up with David Price tomorrow.  Looking at those two pitchers together brings me to this comparison: In 2008, the Rays made a lot of waves calling up a left handed fireballing pitcher from the minor leagues late in the season (Price), and this year the Rays brought up another left handed fireballing pitcher from the minor leagues late in the season (Moore).  In 2008, Tampa made their first franchise World Series appearance, could Moore’s call up propel the Rays to their second WS appearance and possibly first Championship?

Tampa is going to have to pitch carefully to Texas’ lineup, the Rangers finished the regular season second in the league in home runs with 210 (Yankees were 1st with 222).  At the same time, the Rangers are going to have their work cut out for them at bat, the Rays had the league’s 8th best team ERA (3.58), so this series will put the “Good hitting vs. Good pitching” question into action.  My pick: Rays get revenge from last year and win this series in 4.

 

-Detroit Tigers (95-67, AL Central Champions) vs. New York Yankees (97-65, AL East Champions)

It’s certainly a welcome sight to see the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs again after a five year absence, and they’re carrying a great cast of players with them.  That cast is led by their pitching ace Justin Verlander who paced the league with his 24 win season, 2.40 ERA and 0.92 WHIP, and is followed by first baseman Miguel Cabrera (.344 batting average, 30 home runs), catcher Victor Martinez (.330 avg, 103 RBI), and shortstop Jhonny Peralta (.299 avg, 21 home runs).   The Yankees are a similarly built team, and will be sending one of the worst fantasy baseball pitchers CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.00 ERA, 1.23 WHIP) to keep the Tigers at bay, and hopefully put the Yankees up in the short series.  As I referenced earlier, the Yankees led the league with 222 homers; the reigning Home Run Derby champion Curtis Granderson led the team with 41, followed by Mark Teixeira with 39, Robinson Cano with 28, and Nick Swisher with 23.

We know both of these teams have great starting pitching and great hitting, I feel this series is going to come down to the relievers- especially Detroit’s hyper energetic closer who converted a perfect 49 saves in 49 opportunities, and the legendary Mariano Rivera who converted 44 saves in 49 opportunities, and oh by the way set the league’s all time career record of 603 saves.  My pick: due to the rest of the Yankees bullpen showing themselves to be suspect this season, I’m going to pick the Tigers to win in 5.

Of AIM, Baseball, and Superstition

I knew today was going to be good.  I just didn’t know it was going to be this good.  I spent the last few hours of my life sitting directly in front of my television watching baseball, with my laptop in front of me feeding information to me about the games I couldn’t watch.  As a Rays fan, I settled in to watch the Rays put up a big number against rookie pitcher Dellin Betences hoping to clinch the Wild Card spot tonight, and at the same time as a Cubs fan keeping tabs on the Cardinals/Astros and Phillies/Braves rooting against the Cardinals.  David Price started off the game struggling, but only allowed one run in the first inning, so the Rays were still in it, I hadn’t given up hope yet.  And then the Mark Teixeira grand slam in the second inning, that was deflating.

Up by five runs, Joe Girardi appeared to no longer be too occupied with winning the game, than with exercising his pitchers.  Seriously though, who sends out eleven pitchers in a regular season game?  Anyway, I kept watching the Rays game hoping for a comeback and all I got was more pain; Mark Teixeira hits another home run to stretch the lead to 6 in the fourth, and then Andruw Jones sends another one deep to make it 7-0 Yankees in the fifth.  At this point, I had had enough, I picked up my remote and flipped over to the Cardinals/Astros game to see what was happening there, and to not watch the Rays.  Seeing that the Cards were up 7-0 on the Astros also, I knew how this game was going to end and so I began trying to find the Braves game to listen to on the MLB AtBat app on my phone, and being stuck in the middle of nowhere, my mobile network was not supporting this cause.

So, next game on the agenda available on tv: Phillies/Braves, and I tuned in just in time for extras.   Read more of this post

A Wild Week Ahead

Calamity, thy name is the Wild Card race.  At the beginning of this month, both the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves held an 8.5 game lead in the Wild Card over the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals respectively.  The Red Sox saw their AL Wild Card dwindle to just a 3.0 game lead in 11 days and it hasn’t been over 4.0 games since then.  The Braves on the other hand saw their lead drop to 4.5 games in the same amount of time and kept their lead above 3.0 games until September 19th when Chipper Jones “lost a ground ball in the lights” that set the Marlins up for a 2-run walk off home run in the 9th.  And now, today with the Red Sox/Yankees game still in the balance the Sox hold a 0.5 game lead over the Rays, and the Braves hold a 1.0 game lead over the Cardinals. Read more of this post

Baseball (& Fantasy Baseball) and the End of the All-Star Break

Also known as, The Longest Title for a Blog Post. Period.

Lame, inaccurate jokes aside, it’s that time of the year. What time, you ask? The end of the season, of course! It’s the home stretch, the beginning of the end, the most exciting part of the year besides October.

With the All-Star break over, we’ll see a few things in the coming weeks. In a last attempt to improve their records, key players that have been slacking off for the first half of the season (*cough* *cough* Adam Dunn, Victor Martinez *cough* *cough*) will try to regain what they appear to have lost; teams with terrible records (like the Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles) will do everything they can to not completely blow; and those with great seasons will try to keep up the status-quo (Jose Bautista & Prince Fielder are prime examples). Who reaps the benefits of these? You and me, the fans. And not only for those watching; for those playing online, as well.

Knowing that everyone has a favorite team, I’ll try and keep things unbiased… but what I’m about to say applies to everyone, no matter what team you’re rooting for: the end of the season is also big for Fantasy baseball, for the same reasons listed above. Your job, assuming that you play, is to keep an eye on who is going to explode and who is going to combust. In the second half, you can’t be afraid to make quick trades or drops, and picking up someone on a streak can do wonders for your stats. You might be the Astros of your online league, but that doesn’t mean you can’t turn things around. Your team might be full of Dunns and Martinezes, but it’s not too late to swap them out. And if you have Bautistas and Fielders, hold on to them and pray that they stay strong.

Diligently watching games (or SportsCenter) is the key here, both to enjoying the last couple months of game-play and winning in your online league. Oh, and if you ARE an Astros fan, you might want to start watching the final season of Weeds on Showtime… you’ll be more entertained; I guarantee it.

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