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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Red Sox Opener and Notes from Opening Day.

After tripling to drive in the game-tying run in the top of the 9th and deliver the Big Potato, Jose Velvarde his first blown save of 2012 and the first since 2010, Ryan Sweeney was in line to be the hero on Thursday. Sadly, that only lasted for about 20 minutes as the Boston bullpen went on to give up the walk off to Austin Jackson in the next half inning. It was unlikely that the Red Sox were going to get to see the bottom of the 9th because Justin Verlander delivered one of the most dominating opening day performances that I have ever seen. He pitched 8 innings of 2 hit ball and looked very strong. Jon Lester was great as well, going 7 innings and giving up just one run on 6 hits.

The story of the game for me was how Bobby Valentine handled the bullpen in the 9th inning. After not giving the now open closer job to the most experienced man in his bullpen, Mark Melancon, Valentine brought him in to start the 9th. Melancon recorded the first out and then gave up two opposite field singles, neither of which was hit hard at all. Valentine then pulled Melancon with the 9 hole hitter up for his “closer”, Alfredo Aceves. Aceves hit the next batter and gave up the walk off single to Austin Jackson. But regardless of the outcome, it was Melancon’s mess and he should have been left to clean it up. Melancon is the guy the Sox traded for and put him in line to be their closer before acquiring Andrew Bailey, and after not naming him your closer following the Bailey injury, I highly doubt that he thinks that Valentine has much confidence in him.

Notes from around the league-

It was a day of pitching around the majors on Thursday. The Pirates came up with two hits in their first two at bats but that was all they could do against Roy Halladay as they fell to the Phillies 1-0.

The Cubs lost to the Nationals 2-1 in a game that Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Dempster combined to pitch 14.2 innings and give up just 7 hits. The loss marked the fourth year in a row that the Cubs lost in their home opener.

Johnny Cueto worked over the Marlins and handed them their second loss in about 20 hours going 7 innings and giving up just 3 hits. He allowed just one batter to reach second base when Gaby Sanchez doubled in the 7th.

Johan Santana pitched five scoreless innings in his first start since September 2nd, 2010 as the Mets beat the Braves 1-0.

The best game of the day so far (Dodgers and Padres play tonight in San Diego) took place in Cleveland where the Blue Jays beat the Indians 7-4 in a game that took 16 innings to finish. The difference was a JP Arencibia 3 run homer in the top of the 16th. Chris Perez blew the save for the Indians and Jose Bautista hit his first HR of 2012 after hitting 43 in 2011. The Benches cleared in the bottom of the 15th after Luis Perez threw high and tight to Shin-Soo Choo. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Opening Night

Wednesday was a night of many “official” firsts for the Miami Marlins and it was as colorful as the language of Ozzie Guillen. New uniforms, new manager, new players, new fans, and of course an immaculate new ball park. The only problem was that their first house-guests, the Cardinals, were ungrateful and all but took a dump right in the middle of center field where Wednesday, many balls went to die.

“The Greatest” Muhammad Ali highlighted the pre game festivities by delivering the game ball. Josh Johnson then took that ball and delivered it for a strike to Rafeal Furcal to officially open the baseball season, stateside. 

Johnson went on to give up 3 hits and two runs in that first inning. Both runs came on a double by the legend of last October, David Freese. Johnson only allowed one more run in his six innings of work but gave up a total of 10 hits and 12 base runners while never really being in control.

In control is how I would describe how Kyle Loshe looked on Wednesday. Through 6 he faced the minimum and took a no-hitter into the 7th inning. He was effective but by no means dominating. The Marlins just did not seem interested in swinging at hittable pitches.

The Hanley Ramirez at third experiment gave us our first “LOL” or maybe “WTF” moment. On a soft ground ball to the five and a half hole by Carlos Beltran in the second, Ramirez simply watched the ball trickle by. Jose Reyes did not make the play either and the ball ended up in left field, but the play was obviously the third baseman’s to make. Josh Johnson got out of the inning on the next pitch but could be seen shaking his head as he went to cover third on that miss play by Ramirez. The next inning, Ramirez did make a great play to double up Freese at first on a liner by Yadier Molina.

I hope the new park does not affect Hanley, Giancarlo Stanton and other Marlin power hitters like Citi field did David Wright and Jason Bay. Stanton hit 2 balls to center/right center that would of gone out of most parks in the majors, but both were caught. I will have to wait and see how that park plays over the next few months before I give my final impressions of it. But I will say this, it aint no Yankee Stadium.

All night I kept saying that I wanted to see “the thingy” and was disappointed that I did not get to see the new home run structure in center field go off. Other than that it was good opening night. I would of loved to see the first opening day no hitter since 1940 when Bob Feller pitched one, but hey, we have to be realistic. 

The Marlins travel to Cincinnati to play the Reds tomorrow while the Cardinals will be in Milwaukee for the Brewers home opener on Friday. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Opening Series

For the first time since 2008 the Major League Baseball season opened in the Tokyo Dome in front of the respectful and very well depressed Japanese fans. Here are some things that stood out to me from the season’s first two games:

When the Athletics took the field on Wednesday, Brandon McCarthy did not join them. I had never before that seen a team take the field to start a game without their pitcher. Turns out the bullpens in the Tokyo Dome are underneath the dugouts and McCarthy did not realize that it was time to take the field. Later, cameras showed us into those bullpens, those pens could handle triple barrel action, and they are fully stocked with couches, televisions and fridges. That is a pretty sweet deal for relievers if you ask me. 

Ichiro had by far his worst season this side of the pacific in 2011; mainly because he was not getting his infield hits. Usually Ichiro comes up with 50 to 60 infield hits per year (53 in 2010), but in 2011, he only totaled 37, a big reason why he hit .272. Wednesday, Ichiro went 4-5 with 2 infield hits and looks to be on pace to return to life in the .300s.

Forever, Johan Santana was known for having the best changeup in baseball. With his recent injuries, that title moved on to Cole Hammels, or even Tim Lincecum. But I have to say that after watching 8 innings of Felix Hernandez on Wednesday that his change up, no pun intended, is king.

The Athletics showed off their new weapons on Thursday. Bartolo Colon seems to be getting better as his waist size gets larger. On Thursday he went 8 innings while giving up just one run, 3 hits and a walk and he did it on only 86 pitches. The one run came on a Justin Smoak homer that in my opinion he could not repeat, and in Oakland would ok been an easy fly to left. He worked the changeup and his 2-seam fastball made many lefties look bad. 
Colon as Justin Smoak rounds second after a 7th inning homer.
Three newcomers to the outfield provided the Oakland offense. Josh Reddick (former Red Sox), Jonny Gomes and the 36 million dollar man Yoenis Cespedes each hit one. Cespedes reminds me Jason Bay in that he will get fooled by the breaking ball down and away (although his homer came on a breaking ball) and Adrian Beltre in that he almost goes down to his knees when trying to power a pitch.

Overall, it was a good series. I just dislike that both teams have to now go back to Arizona for more spring training games; the M’s for instant play 5 more spring games. I like the idea, but have this series next week and give both teams 2 days off before playing again. It is also odd to me that these two teams will play each other 5 more times before Jackie Robinson Day. Seven of the first eleven games of any team should never come versus any one opponent. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

2012 Major League Baseball Predictions and Projections.

Two days away from the Opening Series; nine days away from Opening Night; ten days away from Opening Day. These days baseball opens more often than I care to count, but regardless, now is as good a time to do my predications as any. I will first go division-by-division, then predict the award winners in each league.
American League
AL East

Last Year
1. New York Yankees (97-65, lost in ALDS); 2. Tampa Bay Rays (91-71, wild card, lost in ALDS); 3. Boston Red Sox (90-72); 4. Toronto Blue Jays (81-81); 5. Baltimore Orioles (69-93)

This Year
1)   New York Yankees (96-66): This team improved their only flaw from last year, starting pitching. Pineda and Kuroda will most likely be the best 3 and 4 pitchers west of Anaheim and come May, Andy Pettitte will be the best number 5 starter in baseball. Concerns are age and health.
2)   Tampa Bay Rays (93-69): The gap between them and the Yankees is slimmer than 3 games, rotation is phenomenal and their lineup is very reliable. The only reason I did not pick them to finish first is that last year they had a makeshift bullpen that I do not think can repeat, in fact, it might be their down fall.
3)   Boston Red Sox (89-73): Everyone knows how I feel about this team, but the starting pitching is just not up to par with the rest of the division. This team led all of baseball in runs, on base, and OPS last season. They lack a lefty to join Frankie Morales in the bullpen, and behind Lester, Beckett and Buchholz it is wide open and I cannot trust that. The lineup is still very good. If anything, it has improved. Love the addition of Cody Ross to man right field when Crawford is back in mid to late April, he will take advantage of the monster.
4)   Toronto Blue Jays (83-79): Finishing with a record of .500 in a division with three 90-win teams tells me that this is a very good team. Ricky Romero is one of the best lefties in baseball and Jose Bautista is considered by many to be the best player in baseball. Unfortunately, they play in a division with three teams that can possibly win 90 games.
5)   Baltimore Orioles (70-92): I really thought this team could finish third last year. They have talent; I have seen them pretty much spoil the Red Sox season in September. Their pitching is young and coming but the division will just beat up on them. I would not be surprised if they came close to losing 100 games.

AL Central

Last year

1. Detroit Tigers (95-67, lost in ALCS); 2. Cleveland Indians (80-82); 3. Chicago White Sox (79-83); 4. Kansas City Royals (71-91); 5. Minnesota Twins (63-99).

This Year
1)   Detroit Tigers (99-63): If anyone is going to win 100 games, it will be them. This lineup is loaded, Comerica plays big, and they will make it look small. They still have the AL MVP and Cy Young winner, although I have my doubts about him since he seemed to pitch 7-8 innings every start last year, he has showed no signs of slowing down and has three plus pitches that he throws at anytime. Add all this to a very solid back end of the bullpen and you have yourself a great team.
2)   Cleveland Indians (84-78): This division is not very good; they will almost finish second by default. They have arguably the best rotation in the division and a very reliable closer, so there you go.
3)   Kansas City Royals (80-82): Hey now, moving up in the world; young talent will do that for you. Jonathan Sanchez gets a much-needed fresh start. Hosmer and Moustakas give them a good middle of the lineup combination. Give them a few years.
4)   Chicago White Sox (72-90): The moves they have made tell me that they are working to rebuild, they are even trying to trade Danks, their ace. I do not trust the healthy the Twins, so they are slotted here.
5)   Minnesota Twing (71-91): Will the M and M brothers be healthy?! I cannot say yes, so there you have them.

AL West

Last Year
1. Texas Rangers (96-66, won AL pennant); 2. Los Angeles Angels (86-76); 3. Oakland A's (74-88); 4. Seattle Mariners (67-95).

This Year
1)   Los Angeles Angels (96-66): Originally, I had the Rangers slotted to win this division, but it looks like Kendry Morales is and will remain healthy. He gives the Angels a much-needed left-handed bat in the middle of that lineup. Haren and Santana are probably the best 3 and 4 pitchers in baseball and everything points to Walden as being a good closer. Solid team all around and I didn’t even mention Albert.
2)   Texas Rangers (95-65): Yes, it is going to be close. This team is pretty much team that made it to two straight fall classics. Mike Maddux and Ron Washington just seem to replace the ace they keep losing and that lineup is still stacked. They will make the playoffs, if anything as a wild card because other than the Angels, this division is very bad.
3)   Seattle Mariners (70-92): Can King Felix pitch every other day? No. Can Jesus Monetero and Ichiro bat every other turn? No.
4)   Oakland Athletics (68-94): I have seen Brandon McCarthy pitch, and I like his stuff. Other than that, bleh.
National League
NL East

Last year

1. Philadelphia Phillies (102-60, lost in NLDS); 2. Atlanta Braves (89-73); 3. Washington Nationals (80-81); 4. New York Mets (77-85); 5. Florida Marlins (72-90).

This Year

1)   Philadelphia Phillies (90-72): This was the hardest division for me to pick, it literally had me up at night. Every team has questions but the Phillies have their questions in the lineup and not their pitching, in fact, their pitching is exceptional. Papelbon is a great closer; although he just might give some Italian dude who had one too many cheese steaks a heart attack. When in doubt, go with pitching, so I am going with the Phillies.
2)   Atlanta Braves (88-74): I cannot put my finger on this team, late in August they had the third best record in baseball and ended up missing the playoffs. The pitching, if healthy is very good. Kimbrl, Ventures and Medlen can make any game a 6 innings game. I have no confidence in slotting them here, but I will.
3)   Miami Marlins (87-75): I hear a ton about this team because I am a close acquaintance with one of their biggest fans. I love all their offseason moves and think they are a very good team but in a tough division. I want to buy in, but my gut just will not let me.
4)   Washington Nationals (84-78): Almost picked them to win this division, but all they want to talk about is how they want to baby Harper and Strasburg. It is almost as if they do not want to win now. Add that to some injuries late in spring training, and they are slotted here, but watch out for them.
5)   New York Mets (77-85): This team overachieved last year and still finished with 77 wins. I think they are a bit better this year, but since they overachieved last year, I will give them the same number of wins. I like Johan I healthy, I like their infield and I like their improved bullpen. There is nothing else to like and nothing to love.

NL Central

Last year

1. Milwaukee Brewers (96-66, lost in NLCS); 2. St. Louis Cardinals (90-72, won wild card, won World Series); 3. Cincinnati Reds (79-83); 4. Pittsburgh Pirates (72-90); 5. Chicago Cubs (71-91); 6. Houston Astros (56-106).

This Year

1)   Milwaukee Brewers (91-71): Minus the big prince, but still pretty much the same team from last year. Aramis Ramirez is a slight upgrade at third base, and Mat Gamel can shine at first because he will finally get consistent at bats. They still have front line pitching and a full year with K-Rod can only help that bullpen. The suspension of Ryan Braun going away does not hurt either.
2)   St. Louis Cardinals (90-72): No Albert but that lineup is still very good. Carpenter has to get healthy quick for them to win 90 games though because Wainright is probably a year away from being fully recovered.
3)   Cincinnati Reds (81-81): I love the Reds, I love the way they play baseball under Dusty Baker. They play National League baseball with American League power. Sadly, they lost their closer to injury and that will cost them a few games. Still, dark horse.
4)   Pittsburgh Pirates (79-83): Will the finally finish .500? They just might. Young Talent all around and adding Bedard and Burnett will help solidify that rotation. They have questions in the bullpen that can hold them back.
5)   Chicago Cubs (72-90): I like Garza and Dempster. I do not trust Marmol one bit. Starlin Castro is great, he can possibly lead the league in average but he could also make 30 errors or so. Theo needs to reshape this team.
6)   Houston Astros (62-100): Sadness.

NL West

Last year
1.Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68, Lost in NLDS); San Francisco Giants (86-76); Los Angeles Dodgers (82-79); Colorado Rockies (73-89); San Diego Padres (71-91).

This Year
1)   San Francisco Giants (91-71): Love this team. Posey is back and looks healthy, and Huff is bound to bounce back. Their frontline pitching is still as good as you can get. Pagan and Cabrera will take away and hit many balls in those AT&T gaps.
2)   Arizona Diamondbacks (89-73): This is another team that overachieved last year, but if anything they are now better because their pitching is better. Upton is legit and Miguel Montero is a top 5 catcher, easy. Can only knock them down so far.
3)   Los Angeles Dodgers (82-79): Kershaw and Kemp are a great foundation, but around them, they are average at best.
4)   Colorado Rockies (81-81): Good team that is trying to rebuild on the run because they have tons of talent. Guthrie can be big for them.
5)   San Diego Padres (75-87): Keep losing cornerstone pieces but Carlos Quienten and Yonder Alonzo will solidify that lineup.

Bolded is my projected winner
Albert Pujols
Adrian Gonzalez
Miguel Cabrera
Prince Fielder
Robinson Cano
Jose Bautista
Evan Longoria
Jacoby Ellsbury

Joey Votto
Ryan Braun
Matt Kemp
Justin Upton
Troy Tulowitzki
Jose Reyes
Ryan Zimmerman
Hanley Ramirez

AL Cy Young
Ricky Romero
CC Sabbatia
Felix Hernandez
Matt Moore
Justin Verlander
Jon Lester

NL Cy Young
Ian Kennedy
Cole Hammels
Clayton Kershaw
Josh Johnson
Roy Halladay
Matt Cain