Monthly Archives: May 2011

MLB Thoughts One Month In (AL)

American League East

Yankees: 17-10
Rays: 16-13
Boston: 14-15
Baltimore: 13-15
Toronto: 13-16

The Yankees rotation hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been better than expected. Even with Phil Hughes mysterious medical ailment, throwback performances from Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have helped the Yankees jump a few games up in the season’s early month. The Rays started slowly, but have gone on a run in recent days despite losing All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria to the DL. The pitching has carried the club so far, and Ben Zobrist has shown signs of bouncing back from a disappointing 2010 campaign.

Boston has won three in a row to pull within one game of .500 on the season. Every facet of Boston’s 2011 club has underachieved so far this season. The starting rotation is certainly not comprised of 5 aces and the lineup certainly won’t threaten to score 1,000 runs this season as many predicted. Even the bullpen has been subpar. Still the most talented team in baseball, Boston will certainly turn things around, but they’ve dug themselves a bigger hole than they would have liked. Baltimore and Toronto have experienced the growing pains many expected them to go through. They’ve both had nice contributions from young pitchers (Drabek, Britton) but have been too inconsistent to honestly challenge in this division.

American League Central

Indians: 20-8
Royals: 16-13
Tigers: 13-17
Twins: 11-18
White Sox: 11-21

The surprise of this division is also the surprise in all of baseball. The Indians have exceeded just about every expectation anybody had of them before the season started. The rotation has pitched extremely well, and even though individual hitters have struggled, the offense has been one of the best in baseball (5.4 runs per game). The Royals have also gotten pleasant contributions from players, especially in their bullpen. But perhaps the largest part of their success has been the maturation of Alex Gordon. Gordon went from highly touted prospect to perpetual disappointment into one of the better hitters early in the 2011 season.

The Tigers haven’t managed to find any offensive support for their pitching staff apart from Miguel Cabrera, and some offseason signings have yielded less than ideal returns. Victor Martinez has spent some time on the DL and Joaquin Benoit has an 8.18 ERA. The Twins have simply been unable to muster anything on offense, scoring a league low 89 runs—no other AL team has scored less than 103. The White Sox have allowed the most runs in the American League, and statistics like that often lead to a considerable amount of time spent in the cellar. Adam Dunn has been underwhelming in his transition to designated hitter and both Chris Sale and Matt Thornton were equally disastrous in their attempts in replacing departed closer Bobby Jenks.

American League West

Angels: 16-14
Rangers: 16-14
Athletics: 15-15
Mariners: 14-16

Baseball’s smallest division has also been the most closely contested through the season’s first month. The Rangers came out of the gate hot, but have since cooled off since injuries to Josh Hamilton and Neftali Feliz. The Angels, behind Jered Weaver’s 6-0 start have grabbed a share of the division lead despite underwhelming performances by Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter and Kendry Morales’ extended absence.

The Athletic’s are baseball’s consummate .500 club, with a 7-7 home record, an 8-8 road record, with 103 runs scored and 104 runs allowed. The Mariners certainly miss the big arm of Cliff Lee, but Justin Smoak is off to a nice .296/.402/.531. However, apart from Smoak (168 OPS+), Ichiro (112) is the only other regular who has been better than league average with the bat. Starter Michael Pineda has been impressive in his first season, and is an early favorite for American League Rookie of the Year.

Thoughts on the NFL Draft

I nailed nine of thirty two picks in my 2011 mock draft, ten if you count the fact that I had Julio Jones going sixth overall, just not to the Falcons. The draft shook out basically the way I expected it and there weren’t too many surprises, but with the amount of NFL draft coverage nowadays, that’s not unexpected. Here are some thoughts I have from the draft.

Patriots: Very strange draft from them. I felt certain they would address their need for pass-rush help in a draft that was heavy on the position, but the soundly ignored it. They didn’t take a defensive lineman until the sixth round, and even then it was a relative unknown end from Central Arkansas. After striking gold with undersized cornerback McCourty last year, they grabbed a similar guy in Ras-I Dowling. They took a pair of running back to add to their backfield committee and grabbed the draft’s most enigmatic individual in Ryan Mallett. They did also trade one of their two first round picks and are set up with a pair of first round picks and a pair of second round picks in 2012, providing their is a draft. But their draft strategy for 2011 was odd. They don’t seem leaps and bounds better on either side of the ball than they were last season. Their biggest need was pass rush and they did not address that. Regardless, the Patriots will remain one of the AFC’s elite teams

Atlanta traded up to add Jones

Falcons: Coming off a season where they earned the top overall seed in the NFC, Atlanta traded away a lot of draft picks to get the guys that they wanted. And surprisingly, they wanted offensive playmakers. They moved all the way up to sixth overall to grab Alabama wideout Julio Jones and they moved up again later in the draft to select Oregon State tailback Jacquizz Rodgers. Undoubtedly, Matt Ryan now has plenty of weapons at his disposal after relying perhaps too heavily on Roddy White, but scoring wasn’t what kept them from winning a playoff game—an inability to even remotely slow down Aaron Rodgers was. Akeem Dent should provide some push on the defense, but they didn’t get the bookend to John Abraham they needed, or the shutdown corner that they lacked. The offense will be more explosive than last season, but the defense still needs work. With a division winner’s schedule, the Falcons might be looking at a step backwards rather than forwards in 2011.

Lions: After years of complete futility, the Lions have started to build a legitimate NFL football team. Solid first-round selections like Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have re-energized a stagnant offense, and most recent first-rounders Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley give the Lions what amounts to a brick-wall defense. I loved both their second round selections of Titus Young and Mikel LeShoure as well. Jahvid Best flashed brilliance in his rookie season, but also missed some time and was reluctant to run downhill. LeShoure will do nothing but run downhill and Young gives Stafford another outside weapon to deflect some attention from Megatron. The Lions saw a four game improvement from 2009 to 2010, which would have been five if not for a terrible rule that disallowed Calvin Johnson’s Week 1 game winning touchdown catch. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that they approach another four game improvment from last year to this year.

Wilkerson's press conference

Jets: The Jets, like many teams in the 2011 draft needed defensive line help and they certainly took the proper steps to address that. Without a second round selection, the Jets took Temple DT Muhammed Wilkerson in the first round and Hampton DT Kenrick Ellis in the third round, adding nearly 700 pounds to their aging defensive line unit. Both players should be able to slide into the rotation and contribute right away to Rex Ryan’s system. They added another running back to their already crowded backfield with their fourth round selection of Bilal Powell. They probably waited too long to address their need at WR, taking Jeremy Kerley in the fifth round and Scotty McKnight in the seventh. That they failed to take a cornerback surprised me somewhat as Rex Ryan’s blitzing defense is predicated on excellent corner play. The Jets must be hopeful of their chances at re-signing Antonio Cromartie. Kerley’s special teams ability probably is a safety net for if (when) the Jets lose all-purpose Brad Smith to free agency.

Buccaneers: I really liked what Tampa Bay did coming off a surprisingly impressive season. Like their division rivals, they needed to address their pass rush situation and did twofold. They made Iowa end Adrian Clayborn their first selection and then took Da’Quan Bowers when he fell all the way to 51st overall. A serious consideration to go number one overall just four months ago, Bowers stock fell because of medical concerns about his knee. An elite talent if healthy, Bowers is worth the risk the Bucs are taking on him. Washington linebacker Mason Foster was a solid third-round pick for Tampa Bay and all of a sudden, a rather unspectacular defense has turned mighty impressive.

Titans: After parting ways with Vince Young, Tennessee definitely needed a quarterback and was in fantastic position to take the one of their choosing at number eight overall. With every quarterback except Newton still available, the Titans chose Locker, the guy I predicted they would take. There were question marks with each signal caller in this year’s draft, and Locker to the Titans seemed like a bit of a reach. His biggest knock was his inaccuracy, something Vince Young often struggled with as well. Locker is a well-built quarterback with physical tools to succeed, but his decision making will need to improve to make this all work out in Nashville. Second round pick Akeem Ayers was a great pick and should help solidifying a less-than-imposing linebacker corps.