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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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.

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

All Stars Day

It’s really tough not to like the MLB All Star Game.  It accomplishes what I see as the fundamentals of an all star game: have every team is represented, every player plays, high amount of fan involvement.  And I know you’re thinking, every other ASG does the same thing, what sets this one apart?  The answer is defense.  By the very nature of baseball, you are forced to play defense if you want to score (and if you don’t field an easy fly ball or grounder coming towards you, you’re either a terrible fielder, or just lazy).  With that said, it’s defense that keeps the All Star Game from just being an All Star Affair like in the NBA for example.  In the NBA ASG there is no defense to be found, you’ll see shooting guards get down in a defensive stance, and then just watch their man drive right past them for an easy dunk, and this is why I can’t watch the NBA All Star Game for more than 10 minutes.

With that said, all star games are designed to be offensive showcases, and you get that in the MLB game along with great defensive plays (a la Jose Bautista, or Torii Hunter), and it keeps the game from getting completely out of hand and keeps the viewer engaged.  However, one of the main factors that keeps the viewer engaged is that the MLB all star game actually means something, in that the winning side gets home field advantage in the World Series for their league.  And I think that’s dumb.  Home field advantage in the World Series should be determined by the team with the best record, however if they truly have the best record then there should be no problem of them winning. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy this caveat of the All Star Game that gives the players something to play for other than bragging rights, I’m simply saying it’s dumb. But let’s actually get to the game itself. Read more of this post