American League East
The Yankees opened the offseason with a very questionable starting rotation after CC Sabathia, but have since transformed it into a strength. After re-upping with Freddy Garcia early on, they traded for young right-hander Michael Pineda and signed former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda. With one of the league’s most potent offenses and a shutdown bullpen, the Yankees seem to be the best team in the East.
Like the Red Sox, the Rays’ season came down to the very last game. The Rays are all about run prevention, running out an excellent rotation and a shutdown bullpen that Joe Maddon manages very well. The reunion with Carlos Pena will add some pop to a lineup that desperately needs it, and a full season of Desmond Jennings should help as well.
3. Red Sox
The Red Sox undoubtedly have a ton of talent, and had they won one more game last year, their whole season could have turned out drastically different. They’ve replaced Jonathan Papelbon with some new bullpen arms after moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, and still possess arguably the league’s best offense. Unfortunately, they have two teams ahead of them in the division to jump.
There’s some hope for the future here, but I think they’re still a season away from contending. The bats are there and Baltimore will certainly hit for some power with bats like Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds. The bullpen should be a strength but it’s the starting pitching that needs to improve for the O’s to climb out of the bottom of the division.
5. Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are an improving team that has a lot of potential, but fulfilling that potential will be challenging, especially in this division. Jose Bautista is probably at his peak performance and while guys like Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus have room for improvement, it’s not a given that they’ll translate their tools into production. After Ricky Romero, the starting rotation doesn’t have an arm that you can count on.
American League Central
Detroit ran away with the division last season and went ahead and got better. They already had the best hitter (Miguel Cabrera) in the division and the best pitcher (MVP & Cy Young Justin Verlander) but decided that Prince Fielder would be an adequate replacement for Victor Martinez. If you asked me which team was most likely to win their division by 15+ games, I wouldn’t hesitate picking the Tigers.
2. White Sox
Thought long and hard about the rest of this division, and it’s pretty close who finishes in spots 2-5. Chicago has some intriguing arms in their rotation, mainly Jake Peavy (health) and Chris Sale (transition to rotation) and should have enough offense to stick around .500 for most of the season.
Their farm system is once again churning out very nice players, and this time they’re locking them up long-term early to try and stabilize some costs. Losing closer Joakim Soria hurt the back end of the bullpen, but if Jonathan Broxton can provide some stability at the end of the game, KC has a chance to put a nice little season together. Offensively, they’re probably the best of the bunch not named the Tigers. But the starting pitching is still an area in need of improvement.
They definitely over-achieved last season, and the offense still is not good. There are far too many regular at bats for guys that are well below league average. The Indians are going to need guys to stay healthy (already a problem) and play above their heads if they want to make any noise in a very weak division.
It’s a shame Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have fought injuries and ineffectiveness the past few seasons. The new ballpark should have been an exciting time for the Twins, but they’ve just kind of wallowed around the past few years. That Carl Pavano is starting Opening Day says a lot about the amount of work their rotation needs.
American League West
They’re still the cream of the crop out here, with a potent offense, and a ton of pitching depth. Yu Darvish looks to replace the production of the departed CJ Wilson and even if Neftali Feliz doesn’t work out as a starter, they have guys like Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison waiting fill in. After consecutive AL pennants, the Rangers are still the team to beat.
But if anyone’s going to give the Rangers a run for their money, it will be the Angels and their new big name free agent splashes. Joining the team are Albert Pujols who gives them the middle-of-the-order bat that they desperately needed and CJ Wilson who fills out the starting rotation and make the Angels front four one of the best in the game.
Their big offseason acquisition was Yoenis Cespedes, who put together a fancy highlight video of himself, but still has zero MLB games under his belt. He could be a middle-of-the-lineup game changer or he could wind up hitting a buck-fifty on June 1 for a last place team. The A’s have a ton of young pitching and if those arms pitch up to their potential, they could hang around and make a run for that second wild card spot.
Even with Jesus Montero, who has managed to stay among baseball’s top prospects despite not having a defined position, Seattle will struggle to score runs. Running the league’s worst offense out in the league’s most pitcher-friendly park is not any way to contend for division titles.
National League East
Even with the flashy offseason moves by the rest of the division, Philadelphia is still the team to beat. They may not have Four Aces anymore, but the three they do have are still damn good. Halladay, Hamels and Lee will lead the way for a pitching staff that will have a little less to work with while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley recuperate from injuries.
While the Marlins made most of the big name moves, I think Washington’s young talent taking a step forward does more good in the end. Reliable starting pitching has been Washington’s Achilles Heel the past few seasons, and bringing in veterans Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to go with homegrown studs Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann should give them some semblance of consistency on the mound. The offense should get a bump from a more typical Jayson Werth season and a return of a healthy Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.
Like the Red Sox, the Braves were just a game away from extending their season past 162 games. But I think they over achieved a little and then didn’t do a whole lot to improve over the offseason. A full season from Michael Bourn will help, but if Jason Heyward and Martin Prado don’t rebound and Chipper Jones spends an extended period of time on the DL, the Braves could find themselves slipping further down the NL East standings than they are used to.
A chic World Series pick, I just don’t see it. The rotation must have everyone stay healthy and effective, and that’s certainly not a lock given the injury history of Josh Johnson and the Jekyll and Hyde routine of Ricky Nolasco and Carlos Zambrano. The offense should be decent enough, but Jose Reyes isn’t a picture of perfect health and I still need to see more consistent effort and production from Hanley Ramirez. Regardless, they shouldn’t expect to be the worst team wearing orange in the NL East this season.
This is a troubled team with no real strength anywhere on the team. The team’s highest paid players are very injury prone and their performances have suffered because of it. The team moved the fences in and lowered them in hopes of jump-starting some of their key players, but more than likely it will hurt their pitchers more than benefit their hitters.
National League Central
The Reds lost their biggest free agent acquisition of the offseason when Ryan Madson went down with Tommy John surgery before ever throwing a regular season pitch for Cincinnati. But with Sean Marshall, acquired in a trade with the Cubs, and Aroldis Chapman, the back end of the bullpen should still be very strong. After Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos, the starting rotation lacks dependable depth and other than Joey Votto, the lineup isn’t all that menacing. However, if there is a division where a team can overlook it’s shortcomings, it’s the NL Central.
They’ll never replace Pujols’ production or the impact that he had on a game just by being in the stadium. But this is still the defending champion and they’re welcoming Adam Wainwright back into the rotation. Even if he’s not the same guy that finished in the top 3 in the Cy Young balloting in 2009 and 2010, he’ll improve the Cardinals rotation. They picked up Beltran on a very team-friendly deal to help fill the Pujols hole (hah!) but what they really need is for Lance Berkman to repeat his 2011 season and for David Freese to take another step forward and become a threat in the middle of the lineup.
Ryan Braun should expect a hard time of it this season, with the positive drug test hanging over him and Prince Fielder no longer looming behind him in the lineup. Aramis Ramirez just isn’t the same guy that Fielder is. With Zack Grienke and Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers have the same deal as the Reds, two very good starters but not much after that. And unlike Cincinnati, Milwaukee doesn’t have the strong bullpen to back the rotation.
Here by the sole virtue that they are not quite as bad as the Pirates and Astros. Apart from Starlin Castro, they don’t have a lot of enviable young talent, and the rotation is a mess behind Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster. With a new front office in place, the Cubs should start returning to relevancy, but not this year and not next year. But hey, $18 million outfielder Alfonso Soriano only has three years left on his contract!
There are only a handful of teams in baseball that could lose AJ Burnett to an injury and have it be a bad thing. But Pittsburgh is one of them. Behind Burnett, the Pirates have a motley crew of reclamation projects (Erik Bedard) and guys that would be more at home in a Triple-A rotation (Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton) than a major league one.
The only reason I’d say they’ll be better than they were last season is because the 106 losses Houston suffered through in 2012 were the most in baseball since the Diamondbacks lost 111 games in 2004. To celebrate their continued disaster, Houston will move to the American League in 2013 where life certainly won’t be any easier.
National League West
The Giants will once again run out an impressive pitching staff and once again struggle to provide adequate run support. Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan will be counted upon to contribute power and speed to a lineup that desperately lacks both and Buster Posey will look to return healthy and productive from an unfortunate and severe ankle injury. They won’t score a whole lot, but with their pitching staff and their home ballpark, they won’t have to in order to win the division.
With Frank McCourt finally out of the picture, one of the games premiere franchises can get back on the right track. They have a Cy Young winning pitcher and an MVP caliber center-fielder to build around in Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp. The new ownership has to decide if Andre Ethier is worth building around, and if not, see what they can get for him in a July trade.
The NL West is considerably easier to pitch in than the American League, and Trever Cahill should find that out as Ian Kennedy did last year. Jason Kubel will help fill out the lineup, but I just don’t see them carrying their 2011 overachievements into 2012.
Colorado is working San Francisco’s plan in reverse—the Rockies have more than enough offense to go around, but is counting on 49-year old Jamie Moyer, AL East washout Jeremy Guthrie and rookie Drew Pomeranz to flush out their starting rotation. Even with the humidor, there could be a lot of home runs flying over the wall at Coors Field—for both teams.
Other than the fact that the first names of San Diego’s first five hitter form a complete sentence—CAMERON WILL CHASE JESUS YONDER— I can’t think of a single thing that excites me about the Padres. Cory Luebke looked very good in limited time late last season and Yonder Alonso will finally get extended playing time after being blocked by MVP Joey Votto in Cincinnati for so long.
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Rangers
AL Wild Card 1: Rays
AL Wild Card 2: Angels
NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Reds
NL West: Giants
NL Wild Card 1: Cardinals
NL Wild Card 2: Nationals
Boston Red Sox
September 1: (83-54) Led Wild Card by 9 games
September 29: (90-72) Lost Wild Card by 1 game
After signing free agent prize Carl Crawford and trading three unspectacular prospects for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox spent the offseason being touted as the greatest team in Major League history.
Their rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka found themselves labeled as Five Aces, despite serious injury or performance concerns on all but one of them. Hundreds of articles were written about the lineup scoring over 1,000 runs in 2011, despite never accomplishing that feat in over 100 years of existence.
Every single “expert” at ESPN picked them to win the AL East and over half of them picked the Red Sox to win the World Series. But then something funny happened—the season started. Boston opened the season by losing its first six games and ten of its first twelve.
No worries, the media said, it was just an adjustment period for a team with so many new additions. And then for awhile it seemed as though they were right. The Red Sox put together winning streaks of five, seven, five, nine and six and headed into the All Star Break leading the division and with the best record in the American League.
They won eleven of their sixteen games following the All Star Break and entered August with the best record in the American League. They lost two of three to the Yankees at the end of August, but still entered September with the best record in the league and atop their division. A 6-0 win over Texas on August 25 left Boston with a 99.989% chance of making the playoffs. But then everything fell apart.
They lost two of three to Texas and two of three to Toronto. Then they lost six of seven against Tampa Bay and three of four to Baltimore, dropping their playoff chances to 80.0%. But the free fall didn’t stop there as they lost four of their last six games, including the last game of the season which let Tampa Bay roll right on by them.
The greatest team ever ended up with the ninth best overall record in baseball and missed the playoffs. In order to completely collapse, everything needed to go wrong for Boston and it did. The offense disappeared with the exception of a handful of games and the pitching and defense were worse.
Boston went 3-19 in September when the offense scored less than 10 runs and received just four quality starts out of twenty-seven September games. Their team ERA was 5.84 for the month and their starter’s ERA was 7.08. Of the six pitchers who started a game for the Red Sox in September, Tim Wakefield’s ERA of 5.25 was the lowest.
Boston has a lot of question marks moving forward. With the game’s second highest payroll, someone is going to have to take the fall for the historic collapse. It could be the general manager Theo Epstein, who despite high media praise, has swung-and-missed on several key free agent signings.
John Lackey still has three years and over $45 million left on his contract and Carl Crawford has six years and $122 million. Previous free agent endeavors JD Drew, Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria and John Smoltz has flamed out in spectacular fashion.
In addition to big free agent blunders, Epstein has failed to build any semblance of starting pitching depth and the upper levels of Boston’s farm system are severely lacking any impact talent.
It could be the manager, Terry Francona who seemed unable to motivate his players down the stretch. Or it could be the pitching coach who saw his pitchers succumb to injury and poor performance throughout the year.
Personnel-wise, Boston has the opportunity to shake things up, but not in their rotation. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka are all under contract for 2012. There are no better internal options, and unless they can find someone desperate enough to take Lackey or Dice-K off their hands, the Boston rotation is full. Boston would have to eat a ton of cash to move either guy, and while I’m sure they’d be willing to, I doubt they could find a taker.
Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia will be back manning the right side of the infield, and will provide MVP-caliber offense and defense. The left side of the infield is less certain. Boston can bring Marco Scutaro back on a team option for $6 million and will probably do so. Kevin Youkilis is under contract for 2012, but the team may consider shifting him to the DH role to try and keep him healthy while replacing him at third with Jed Lowrie or from outside the organization.
If the team moves Youkilis to DH full-time, David Ortiz’s time with Boston is probably up. JD Drew’s definitely is. Drew was never as terrible as Boston fans may have thought, but his playing time was sporadic due to his injuries. Boston will probably cut ties with Drew and look to free agency to fill RF after youngsters Josh Reddick failed to impress. Carlos Beltran is the best available RF option, but Boston may choose to go with someone who has a better track record health-wise, like Oakland’s Josh Willingham. Ellsbury and Crawford will return to complete the outfield.
The biggest turnover could happen in the bullpen. Longtime closer Jonathan Papelbon will be a free agent and could jump ship after some unpleasant ends to seasons recently. If he does leave, Daniel Bard is the likely heir to the ninth inning unless Boston chooses to pick from the plethora of closers that will be on the open market.
Next season doesn’t promise to be any easier regardless of how the Red Sox look to plug their holes. The Yankees will undoubtedly hit the offseason with money to spend and word is Toronto will be looking to raise their payroll as well. With the Yankees and Rays already among the games powerhouse franchises, Toronto’s return to respectability would make the game’s best division even better.
Boston will need to make some smart free agent decisions this offseason while hoping that some of their dead wood can bounce back from atrocious seasons. It’s tough to be successful when your highest paid players put up some of the worst numbers in the game.
September 1: (81-56) Led Wild Card by 8.5 games
September 29: (89-73) Lost Wild Card by 1 game
When play began on September 2, the Braves held a comfortable 9 game lead in the loss column for the NL Wild Card over the Cardinals and the Giants. The Braves were sitting pretty, with a playoff probability of well over 90%. Everything was going right for Atlanta—the starting pitching was strong, the back end of the bullpen was superb and the hitters were finally starting to show signs of life. Dan Uggla was fresh off a 33-game hitting streak and Chipper Jones was healthy and regaining his stroke.
But just around the time when Atlanta playoff tickets went on sale, disaster hit. Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, two of the Braves top three starters went down with injuries. The offense up and disappeared, with four regulars hitting under .250 and no one with over 60 AB hit over .271 in the month of September. The enormous workload of relief duo of Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters finally caught up to them and fastballs down and on the corners started leaking back over the middle of the plate.
The Braves lost 18 of their final 26 games, including their last five contests. They were swept by the Cardinals in mid-September and went 0-6 against Philadelphia. September produced the Braves highest ERA of any month of the season, and their lowest OPS. Seventeen of their last twenty-six games were against teams with losing records, but the Braves managed just an 8-9 record in those games.
What does the near future look like for Atlanta? There shouldn’t be too much roster turnover, as many of the Braves core players are under team control for 2012. Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla will undoubtedly return to the right side of the infield and Brian McCann and Chipper Jones are under contract for 2012. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez is the only infielder without a contract for next season, so the Braves may look to bring in a replacement with more offensive upside.
Jason Heyward (pre-arbitration), Martin Prado and Michael Bourn (both arbitration eligible) should make up the outfield next season and the prospective OF class doesn’t have a clear-cut upgrade available apart from Carlos Beltran.
The rotation and bullpen should stay mostly the same with the returns of Hanson and Jurrjens. Both Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe are in the final years of their contracts and the Braves could look to unload one or both. Hudson should be fairly easy to deal if they choose to do so, but Atlanta would have to kick in a lot of money for anyone to take Derek Lowe off their hands. The Braves have Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado to fill out the rotation and to act as starting pitching depth.
The bullpen should see the normal amount of turnover with the top guys staying locked into their roles and guys like Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill should be replaced either by similar veteran arms or from within the system.
The Braves will return pretty much the same team that missed the wild card by one game this year, but their path to the playoffs might be significantly more difficult. Washington is finally seeing some returns from their high draft picks and finished the 2011 season just one game under .500. I wouldn’t count them as a lock to finish worse than Atlanta next season. The Marlins will move into a new stadium and a new name (Miami Marlins) and the new revenues that come with those. There have been rumors of the Marlins spending that money and I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a shot (however remote) at Albert Pujols. Certainly they’ll be in on the top pitchers (CJ Wilson) and they always have plenty of young homegrown talent.
With the division’s toughest inter-league schedule and the improvements of the rest of the NL East, the Braves will have a more daunting task awaiting them in 2012, without a whole lot of room for outside improvement. Atlanta will once again have to rely on the continued development of its young players and hope to keep its key rotation pieces healthy for a full season.
Realistically, the only major change the Braves could make is to their coaching staff, which despite the collapse seems unlikely. Fredi Gonzalez is a poor manager, but will certainly won’t be let go after just one season.
Justin Verlander failed to win his 25th game of the season the other day, but regardless of that he’s had a superb season. He has gone 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and a 250/57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 251 innings and has MLB award voters touting him as a runaway Cy Young winner and a possible MVP winner.
But delving deeper into his season might show otherwise. Undoubtedly, traditional stats like wins, ERA and strikeouts confirm that Verlander is the clear Cy Young winner. He will win the pitching triple crown this season by leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA. While not as rare as the hitting triple crown (average, HRs and RBIs) the last dozen pitchers that have won the triple crown have also won the Cy Young award.
However, more extensive statistics show that Verlander might not be the clear-cut best pitcher in the American League. His WAR of 7.0 is tied with CC Sabathia for the best in the American League, but of qualified starters, Justin Verlander ranks just fourth in FIP and second in xFIP. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching and eliminates things that pitchers have no control over, such as defense. His FIP is actually the highest it has been since 2008, while his ERA this year is a career-low.
CC Sabathia has a lower FIP and xFIP than Verlander, and the 0.60 edge Verlander has in ERA is due entirely to Sabathia’s unusually high BABIP (batting average of balls in play) of .318 this season. Verlander’s 2.40 ERA is due mostly to an abnormally low BABIP and an abnormally high LOB% (left on base percentage). Both of these statistics are based mainly on “luck” and if these numbers were more in line with Verlander’s career numbers his season may have a different look. His career BABIP is .285 which is a very normal number, but in 2011 it is .238—much lower than the league average.
Another aspect of Verlander’s season that must be taken into account is the competition he has faced. Pitching in the American League Central division, Verlander will have made 10 starts against teams with a winning record this season, and just three such starts since July. CC Sabathia on the other hand has made 19 starts against winning teams, 11 since June.
Traditional statistics point to Justin Verlander as a clear-cut Cy Young favorite, but advanced metrics show that CC Sabathia has been the American League’s best pitcher in 2011. Cases can be made for either man to win the award, and I wouldn’t be all that upset if either pitcher received the award.
But, I can see no case whatsoever where anyone can make a case that Justin Verlander is the Most Valuable Player.
First of all, anyone that says the Tigers would have missed the playoffs without Verlander is insane. Detroit will end up winning the division by at least 14 games, probably more. The Tigers also outscored every team in their division by anywhere from 40 to 160 runs. Hitters like Miguel Cabrera have a much better case for MVP than Verlander. Cabrera is somewhat overlooked because he is this good every season. Verlander is having a career year, but Cabrera has a career year every year. The Tigers would have made the playoffs if I replaced him in the starting rotation.
Secondly, pitchers have had much better seasons than Verlander is having this year. If Pedro Martinez didn’t win the MVP for his 1999 season, Verlander shouldn’t finish top 10. That season, Pedro struck out 63 more batters than Verlander did this year, despite facing 134 less batters. Never mind Pedro did it in the midst of the Steroid Age and Verlander’s doing his thing in an offensive decline.
Every day skill players like Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Miguel Cabrera are more valuable to their team than Justin Verlander. I believe that in baseball, the best player is the most valuable player. During a short playoff series, one starting pitcher can most definitely be the most valuable player, but over the course of a 162 game season, an everyday player provides a team the most value.
Justin Verlander is having an incredible season, but it is far from the historically good year that would force me admit that he is as a runaway Cy Young winner or a serious MVP candidate.
JULY 2, 2011 — The second of thirty Major League stadiums on our list was the home of the Cincinnati Reds, Great American Ball Park. About four hours from Murfreesboro, eight hours from Atlanta and nearly 1100 miles round trip, the GABP may be the last of our trips to be accessed entirely by car. The Florida stadiums are a possibility but in no way a certainty.
Great American Ball Park gets a very high grade in my book. It was spacious with plenty of room to move around, yet it didn’t feel like behemoth of a structure. It was friendly and accessible all at the same time. Food was reasonably priced and parking is a breeze. Located right on the Ohio River, very affordable parking garages abound within walking distance in all directions. You could park in Kentucky and walk across one of several bridges without breaking a sweat.
There were very few superfluous annoyances around the park, which enables fans to focus on the game they came to see. There is no grating PA announcer and the mid-inning gimmicks are tasteful and enjoyable. The only real complaint I had was the brutal heat (mid 90s all game) but our seats were directly in the sun, and there were numerous “Cool Zones” with misting fans and water to keep fans cool.
Speaking of fans, the Reds fans impressed me immensely. The crowd was solid, well informed and well behaved. I don’t think I heard a single curse word the whole afternoon which may be a baseball game first for me. Certainly they were more involved than Atlanta fans, more hospitable than Cardinal fans and more numerous than Royal fans.
The baseball experience doesn’t begin and end with the product on the field, but it incorporates many more elements. TJ and I enjoyed a well-played and entertaining game in a venue that was both accommodating and comfortable.
We ended our long weekend trip with by swinging through the Louisville bat factory in Kentucky. A cheap and fascinating way to spend an hour or two, ten bucks gets you into the museum and through the factory where millions of bats are produced each year.
My friend TJ and I have decided to attempt to travel to all 30 MLB stadiums within the next 20 years. Obstacles will undoubtedly arise, but we hope to address and overcome those if possible. We are currently planning for one short trip every year, combining stadiums when practical.
There are 10 trips that could be worked to logistically include more than one stadium. Cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles each have two teams and a handful of other cities are close enough so that we could catch a Saturday game in one city and a Sunday game in another. If we squeezed as many stadiums into individual trips as possible, this project could be finished in 16 years. But hopefully we’ll have the means and opportunity to stretch them out a little bit, and enjoy the sights that each city has to offer.
Earlier this year, we officially kicked this project off with a trip to Atlanta’s Turner Field. Both of us had been to numerous Braves games before, but thought it would be a good starting point for our project. The Braves won 7-6 in extra innings, so we certainly weren’t cheated out of great baseball during out first leg. The picture to the left is the piece of fence from the late Atlanta Fulton County Stadium that Hank Aaron cleared when he broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record. Turner Field is a relatively new stadium, having hosted Braves games since 1997 after it served as the home to the 1996 Summer Olympics. With both of us having lived in Atlanta for a good portion of our adolescent lives, it only made sense to make Turner Field the first stop on our MLB Tour-de-jour.
In two weeks, the two of us will head out on our first actual trip when we make our way to Cincinnati to visit the Great American Ball Park. Another benefit of planning these trips is that they will help me continue to fulfill another personal goal of visiting all 50 states. I have been to 32 states so far and will add several more if we do end up completing our tour of all 30 MLB stadiums, I will add at least six more states (Arizona, Texas, Washington, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Michigan). It’s also possible that during our trip to Boston to see Fenway Park that we take an extra day or two or three to explore a little more of New England.
Green states are ones that I have spent time in, whether it be years, weeks or days.
UPDATE 7/1: Father reminded me about our Plymouth trip which had completely slipped my mind. Driving from New York, we traveled through Connecticut and Rhode Island on our way to Massachusetts. A childhood trip to New Mexico and a college trip to Denison University add two more states to my current total.
Recently, Major League Baseball hosted a nation-wide job interview for their Dream Job – one in which the winner would spend the baseball season living in New York City, watching every baseball game of the 2011 season in a state-of-the-art Fancave. 16 television screens so that if a baseball game is on, it can be watched.
I saw a clip of MLB Network’s baseball crew interviewing the winner recently and they asked him if he was starting a franchise, which three players he would choose to build around. His answers were Derek Jeter, Felix Hernandez and Brian Wilson. And with that answer it made me curious as to whether MLB chose the smartest baseball fan for their Dream Job, or simply one that was simply fanatical.
If this guy wants to start his franchise with a 36 year old shortstop, the best young pitcher in baseball and a one-year wonder closer that’s his prerogative. But I bet I can choose three of my own players and blow his out of the water.
First off, you want to take a solid up-the-middle talent star. If he was starting his franchise in 1999, Jeter makes sense. But not now, not when Jeter is in the twilight of his eventual Hall of Fame career. There are really two elite shortstops in baseball right now and neither is Derek Jeter. My first choice is Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. At age 26, he’s just beginning to enter the prime of his career and would solidify the middle of your infield for a decade or more.
Next I’d look for an arm to anchor my pitching staff and Felix Hernandez would be my choice, and is the only pick I agree with. Since he’s taken, I’ll just go ahead and grab someone like Boston’s Jon Lester or Tampa Bay’s David Price. Young, uber-talented lefties don’t just grow on trees. Maybe Clayton Kershaw or Tim Lincecum.
Lastly, I would not take a closer. Unless you are Mariano Rivera, the closer role is simply too volatile and has much too high a turnover rate. I’d turn again to the offense and lock up a young, talented player at a premium position. I’d probably take Evan Longoria, the 25-year old wonderkid who can do just about everything.
I think my trio of Tulowitzki, Lester and Longoria would be a better start to a franchise than Jeter, Hernandez and Wilson. I have more youth and more talent and I also have those aspects at positions where talent is sparsest.
1. Philadelphia Phillies (95-67)
The Phillies became so overrated this winter that it’s become trendy to pick against them, so much so in fact that I believe they are underrated again. This is a team that won 97 games last year despite some pretty bad injuries and long disappearing acts from the offense. I’d wager that at least one of their “four aces” takes a turn on the DL at some point, but they are still an excellent ball club and the team to beat.
2. Atlanta Braves (93-69)
Very quietly, the Braves have put together a very formidable team. They have rotation that is deep and talented, so much so that Mike Minor will open the season in Triple-A. The addition of Dan Uggla and the return of a healthy Chipper Jones will lengthen the lineup and provide more support to the staff. They made it to the playoffs last season despite being a lesser offensive club and dealing with significant injuries. I think they make a return trip this season, providing they can stay somewhat healthy.
3. Florida Marlins (88-74)
The 2011 Marlins have significant upside, but have a fairly high bust factor to them as well. They’ve hedging a lot of bets on pitchers that perpetually underperform their peripheral stats (Nolasco and Vazquez). The offense will undoubtedly miss Dan Uggla’s consistency, and expecting Omar Infante and John Buck to repeat their 2010 campaigns may be unrealistic. The talent is there and the team is a good one, but Atlanta and Philly are better.
4. Washington Nationals (78-84)
The future is starting to look a little better, but the nation’s capitol will have to wait a bit longer to be relevant again. The offense has become one that is actually a good unit. Jayson Werth is not worth his contract, but he’s an very good player on both sides of the ball and will fit nicely with the other offensive pieces around him. Ryan Zimmerman is perpetually underrated and Adam LaRoche’s consistency goes overlooked. If young players like Ian Desmond and Michael Morse take a step forward, Washington could prove to be an annoying spoiler team. But regardless of how many runs they score, their pitching staff is more than capable of giving up even more.
5. New York Mets (72-90)
The Mets’ new front office has its work cut out for them. The Kings of Queens have turned quickly into jokers. They’ve got some potentially nice offensive pieces, but not a particularly intimidating lineup. They’re not exactly a model of perfect health either and they are betting on some young unproven guys to repeat career performances. If a lot things break right for the Mets they could be looking at a remote wild card shot by July. If not, an enormous roster shake up wouldn’t be out of the question.
1. Cincinnati Reds (91-71)
Apart from Joey Votto, nobody particularly stands out on a rather blase Reds team. But they were good enough to win a weak division last year and it doesn’t look like the division got much better. As is the norm with most upstart teams, the Reds got a lot of unexpected contributions this year and the trick now is to see if they can repeat those.
2. Milwaukee Brewers (90-72)
The Brewers did not struggle to score runs last season, nor did their opponents. While they will remain a very strong offensive team, they did vastly improve their rotation situation which no longer boasts Randy Wolf as a main attraction. Both Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum are excellent additions, although they’ll need to avoid any more pick-up basketball games. The Brewers are definitely the most improved NL Central team and could very well nudge the Reds out for the division crown.
3. St. Louis Cardinals (89-73)
Adam Wainwright’s injury really threw the rotation out of whack, to the point where it probably won’t be all that good. Carpenter is solid, but not a given to stay on the field. Chances are he’ll either be on the DL or on a different team come the trade deadline. After Pujols, Holliday and Rasmus, the lineup is void of any serious offensive threats. The Cardinals are the epitome of stars and scrubs, and with less stars than they had last year, they shouldn’t expect much this summer under the Arch.
4. Chicago Cubs (80-82)
The rotation should be solid and the back of the bullpen is excellent, but the offense seems to be comprised of too many overpaid and underperforming aging veterans. Starlin Castro is a nice injection of youth and ability, but he’s just one guy.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates (75-87)
At least they’re not in last place! They have some nice young offensive pieces like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, but the rotation is mostly garbage and the bullpen is not much better. They’re moving in the right direction, but at an exponentially slow pace. The fifth place finish is less a vote of confidence in the Pirates, but rather a complete disbelief in the awfulness of the Astros.
6. Houston Astros (69-93)
Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers did a nice job last year at the front of the rotation, but the back of the rotation is filled with question marks, the bullpen is less than intimidating and the offense isn’t going to out-score anybody enough to consistently win ballgames. And considering the Astros shocking lack of high-end talent in the minors, don’t be surprised to see some veterans shipped off for prospects, like Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman were last season.
1. San Francisco Giants (92-70)
World Series hangover or not, this is still a very good club. I don’t think they’ll get quite the same production that they got last year from Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and Pat Burrell, but offense isn’t what won them a championship anyways. The 2011 Giants will go just as far as their pitching takes them. And with a rotation fronted by 2-time Cy Young award winning Tim Lincecum and filled out with guys like Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner, that’s a long way. Because of their ability to develop young pitching, it’s made making $185 million dollar man, Barry Zito a very expensive fifth starter a little bit easier.
2. Colorado Rockies (86-76)
I don’t see San Francisco being better than they were last year, but I do see the Rockies being better. However, the Rockies were only an 83 win team last season and didn’t do much to improve themselves except that they expect Troy Tulowitzki to be around for a full season this year. The rotation has a lot of boom or bust potential, and can we really expect the same numbers from Carlos Gonzalez again? Maybe, but I still see them as an also-ran rather than a frontrunner this year.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (78-84)
Kershaw-Billingsley-Kuroda is a damn good front three and they have some depth at the back of the rotation. The bullpen’s not terrible, but I can not foresee the offense scoring with enough frequency to support what should be a nice year from their pitchers. They lack a high impact bat on offense, but could have several nice pieces if they can stay healthy. A bounceback from Matt Kemp would be nice, especially if it settles some questions about his dedication and work ethic. Funny how production answers those. Truth is, the Dodgers really need to smooth out their ownership status before they can truly rebuild themselves into a perennial contender.
4. San Diego Padres (76-86)
Now that Adrian Gonzalez no longer anchors the lineup, the Padres offense is among the games worst units—Ryan Ludwick probably bats cleanup for San Diego this year. Take a terrible offense and make it play 81 games in one of the most offense-suppressing ballparks in baseball and you end up with very ugly results. The rotation isn’t anything special and since that is the case, the shutdown bullpen is typically going to be rendered to lower-leverage situations.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks (70-92)
A bounceback from Justin Upton would go a long way into re-establishing this lineup, but apart from him there are a lot of decent players with big holes. They strikeout way too much and get on base way too infrequently. Those two characteristics lead to a very inconsistent and ineffective offense which is the last thing the Diamondbacks need with its pitching situation in absolute shambles. Ian Kennedy profiles more as a back of the rotation guy, but draws an Opening Day start for Arizona.
1. Boston Red Sox (94-68)
I don’t think Boston will be the ungodly superpower that many are projecting them to be. Sure, they picked up Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford, but the two of them were less productive than Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez were in 2010. Gonzalez and Crawford also play less premium positions, meaning the Red Sox will have to run someone like Jarrod Saltalamacchia out there on a regular basis, he of the 82 career OPS+. The back end of the pitching rotation remains questionable. Josh Beckett was not good last year and Dice-K is about as dicey as they come.
2. New York Yankees (93-69)
The Yankees failed to sign Cliff Lee, leaving them to scramble to fill the back two spots in their rotation. If Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia can be serviceable, the Yankees will be just fine. But if they all flame out early, it could be a long year in the Bronx. The offense will remain prodigious, and the bullpen should be among the league’s best. The Yankees led the league in offense in 2010, and did so with several key players contributing less-than-impressive seasons. A return to normal for guys like Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter could turn an already impressive offense into a run-producing powerhouse.
3. Tampa Bay Rays (85-77)
The Rays have won the AL East two of the past three years, but enter into another transition year in 2011. Gone is pretty much the entire bullpen as well as two of their most productive hitters, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. As usual, the farm system is stacked with plenty of talent ready to start replacing the departed stars, but this year may be too soon to expect full returns on investment. The homegrown rotation will keep the Rays in ballgames and in the division race, but ultimately will miss out on a third playoff berth in four years.
4. Baltimore Orioles (80-82)
The O’s are definitely headed in the right direction, but their touted young talent has failed to develop as well as expected. Matt Wieters has been more average than awesome, and the young outfield has been more ordinary than outstanding. There’s some hope on the way with some pitching prospects, but they’re in the wrong division to be learning on the job. A lot of one year stopgaps in place for the team, with guys like Derrek Lee, JJ Hardy and Vladimir Guerrero looking to rebuild their value off down years.
5. Toronto Blue Jays (76-86)
Trading Roy Halladay hurt, no doubt, but getting rid of Vernon Wells was a fantastic move by the Jays, regardless of how positive an influence he was. His ill-advised contract was a burden on a team playing in a division where every dollar counts if they want to compete. Shedding that salary allows them more financial flexibility going forward.
1. Detroit Tigers (90-72)
Despite his off-the-field antics, Miguel Cabrera remains one of the league’s most prolific offensive players and now has an adequate sidekick to help carry Detroit’s offense in Victor Martinez. The Tigers offense will be better, but they will still rely on their top heavy rotation and shut down bullpen to win ballgames. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello look to build onto their short major league resumes, and Joaquin Benoit will team with Jose Valverde to form an imposing late-inning tandem.
2. Minnesota Twins (85-77)
The Twins have long made a habit of developing their own talent and competing year in and year out with a limited payroll. But the Twins have churned out some rather impressive homegrown players the past few years, and with high attendance numbers and a new stadium generating record revenues, the Twins have raised their payroll into baseball’s top 10. Their park, while detrimental to and infuriating for the Twins home run hitters, is suited perfectly for their “pitch-to-contact” pitching philosophy.
3. Chicago White Sox (82-80)
The Sox are definitely going for it, having taken on a lot of payroll in recent years (Rios, Peavy and Dunn). They’re in the right division to make a run at another playoff berth, but will need their pitching to hold up all season in order to have that shot. They won the World Series because each of their pitchers had a career year and something similar will need to happen for them to be serious contenders again this year. I wouldn’t hold my breath.
4. Kansas City Royals (75-87)
No matter what transpires for the Royals this season, if their young talent continues to develop on schedule the season will be a success. They’ve got some veteran placeholders while that talent approaches the major leagues, and I feel comfortable in saying that the Royals will make the playoffs within the next five seasons. Dayton Moore said that his first priority was going to be rebuilding the Royals from within and he’s certainly accomplished the first step in that process by compiling vast amounts of young talent. The trick now is to develop it and transition it all to the majors.
5. Cleveland Indians (70-92)
In direct contrast to the Royals, the Indians have very few high-upside talents in the minors and look to be mired in a rebuilding stage for a few years. Trading off veterans like Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona makes all the sense in the world if by doing so, Cleveland can replenish their farm system. Although given the poor returns on their recent trades, even that may be too much of a challenge for the Tribe. When the best player you get back for CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez is Justin Masterson, it might be time to reconsider the scouting department.
1. Texas Rangers (89-73)
I can’t see them being that much better than they were last year, when they got a career year from Josh Hamilton, a pleasant surprise from CJ Wilson and a resurgence from Vladimir Guerrero. The starting rotation doesn’t look to be overly impressive so the Rangers will have to mash their way to a second consecutive division crown, which they are more than capable of doing.
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (84-76)
In 2011, the Angels will pay over $50 million for three centerfielders—none of which will play centerfield for the Angels. Gary Matthews Jr is still owed $11 million this season despite being dumped last season, while Vernon Wells ($23 million) and Torii Hunter ($18 million) will play the corner outfield positions this year for the Halos. The Angels are a collection of a lot of overrated offensive and defensive players with a pitching staff that doesn’t have much depth beyond Dan Haren and Jered Weaver.
3. Oakland Athletics (80-82)
Perhaps one of the league’s best kept secrets is Oakland’s starting rotation, which is five deep and five strong. With a very good bullpen, even a passable offense could allow the A’s to make their first playoff run since 2006. But additions like Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui probably won’t help an offense that ranked eleventh in the American League last season enough to jump to the top of baseball’s smallest division.
4. Seattle Mariners (63-99)
Typically I don’t like to pick teams to lose 100 games, but the Mariners did it last season and very well may do it again in 2011. The offense was historically futile last season and doesn’t figure to be much better this time around. The pitching, apart from Felix Hernandez, isn’t very good and there’s not much minor league talent behind Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda. The forecast looks just as bad for the Mariners as it does for America’s dreariest city.
My 165-74-13 record during the regular season earned me the number one overall seed in the playoffs and matched me up against the eighth overall seed (Tug Z’Nuff) in the first round. Tug Z’Nuff and I met in Week 6 of the regular season, with me prevailing 7-4-1 but that matchup was long history. Only four hitters that were on my team in Week 6 are currently on my roster. Six have since been dropped and two others have departed via trade.
The results changed slightly the second time we danced, and I used a weekend surge to survived a mid-week slump and moved into the semifinals with a 10-2 victory. Nothing too unusual as my team stuck to the plan they used all season and rode to the regular season crown—dominant pitching and just-enough scrappy hitting.
I lost home runs and stolen bases this week, won average and on-base percentage and barely hung on to runs and RBI. I made a couple of managerial moves that paid off big time this week, and enjoyed solid weeks from multiple players rather than a huge week from one guy. In a week where Dan Uggla was limited to three games with a groin injury and hit only .083 I managed only three homers, one each from Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada and Ben Zobrist. I made up for the lack of power by having seven hitter post OBPs of .385 or better and had nine players score multiple runs—seven had three or more. New pick-up Logan Morrison scored seven runs for me in his first week and Nick Swisher led my squad with five RBI. I won runs by one and RBI by two. Kosuke Fukudome stole my only base and Scott Rolen rebounded from some bad weeks with a .412/.545 performance this week. His power is still way down (only 2 HR since June) but he remains a run producer.
Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher both enjoyed nice weeks as the Yankees won eight straight games. They combined to hit .395/.444 while scoring seven runs and driving in eight with two home runs. Travis Hafner has a second nice week for me, hitting .300/.391 with two runs and three RBI. I knew his counting numbers wouldn’t account to much in Cleveland’s lineup, but his ratio stats have been well above average since I picked him up. Apart from Uggla, the only player to disappoint me this week was Lorenzo Cain who put up a .182/.250 line, scored one run and failed to steal a base.
After going 4-2 in the hitting categories, I needed only to split the pitching ones to advance. My pitchers did more than split, they swept them 6-0. They recorded four wins, a whopping seven saves, 63 strikeouts and seven quality starts while posting a 2.80 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. All of those numbers were enough to win each category rather comfortably. Wins, quality starts and strikeouts looked surpassable when Tug Z’Nuff picked up three starters to throw on Sunday, but only one recorded a quality start, none picked up a victory and they managed only seven strikeouts in over 16 innings.
Josh Johnson had a nice start this week in which he struck out 12 in six innings and Jaime Garcia and Barry Enright both won their starts this week, but the star was once again Felix Hernandez. He made two quality starts with a 0.00 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 17 strikeouts. In fact, he’s allowed just one earned run in his last 45 innings. He’s more than fulfilled the expectations I had when I used my second round draft pick on him. Not to be outdone by King Felix, my closers had themselves quite a week too. Feliz and Franklin each saved a pair of games while Aardsma picked up three. None of them allowed a run and I ran away with saves 7-0.
I activated IF Jeff Keppinger midway through the week and to make room for him I parted ways with my seventh-round pick, Nyjer Morgan. Morgan disappointed all year, experiencing a considerable offensive drop-off from 2009. I took him mostly for his stolen base potential (42 in 2009) and he had 33 for me this year, but was also caught 15 times, likely costing me runs. His batting average and OBP dropped over 50 points from his 2009 numbers and with him looking at being suspended for up to 15 games, I was finally done with him – leaving me with just 10 of the 22 players I drafted.
I also made one more move late Sunday night, picking up Cleveland OF Michael Brantley and dropping Mike Minor. Logan Morrison took a foul ball off his face and Nick Swisher is dealing with a balky knee, leaving me an outfielder short. I anticipate both guys will be fine in a few days at which point I’ll bring back Minor, but until then, I needed a bat to keep the spot warm.
The semifinals will feature matchups between division rivals. Murderer’s Row and Honey Nut Ichiros (both from Division 3) will face off as the second and third seeds while I get Division 4 rival and fifth-seed Whipple23. Whipple23 finished fifth overall with a 133-96-23 record and knocked off the fourth-seed, Angel Dust n Hoffman 8-4 in the first round of the playoffs.
We met just the once time in the regular season, a 9-3 win for me in Week 9. That week we split the offensive categories and I swept all six of the pitching ones. He’s since cut some hitters in exchange for starters so I’m looking at a disadvantage again in regards to number of starts. I have just one pitcher making two starts, and it’s a rather unspectacular one in Jake Westbrook, while Whipple23 has five pitchers scheduled to make two starts. I’m going to need Adam Wainwright, who has lost four starts in a row to bounce back this week while my other starters continue their good work.
With the 10-2 win, I moved my overall record to 175-76-13, nearly 100 games over .500. The first round win also assured me of a Top 4 finish in the league which qualifies me to move up a level next year to a higher-ranked league. But I’m focused on getting through the next two weeks first!
For about a week into the 2010 season, Curtis Granderson looked like a terrific addition to the Yankees. He homered in his first at-bat as a Yankee and then hit a game-winning home run against Boston two days later. He put up a .357/.419/.607 triple slash line with two homers, five RBI and three stolen bases in his first week in Pinstripes. Yankee fans everywhere celebrated. They had their first true center-fielder since Bernie Williams’ heyday.
But the exciting opening act quickly gave way to a less than appealing second one, and Granderson saw his numbers fall precipitously to .225/.311/.375 until he hit the disabled list in early May with a groin injury. By that time, many fans had soured on the energetic center-fielder and Granderson’s struggles coupled with Austin Jackson’s otherworldly start for Detroit prompted calls for Brian Cashman’s job.
But Granderson returned from the DL smoking hot, temporarily quieting doubting fans by hitting .417/.461/.750 the first week back from his injury with four doubles, a homer and four RBI. But just like he did in April, Granderson slumped and all the concerns and worries about him came to the forefront again.
Through the summer, Granderson continued to struggle with consistency. His offensive performance in general was of concern, but more specifically troublesome was his dismal showing against left-handed pitching. Coming off his worst season as a professional in 2009, Granderson was showing little to no improvement in 2010, despite moving into a better lineup and a more friendly hitting environment.
After taking three 0-fers in four days against Boston in early August, Granderson requested that hitting instructor Kevin Long take a long look (pun intended) at his swing and make any necessary adjustments to improve it. Long did so, although both reported that only minor mechanical changes were made.
After two days out of the lineup, Granderson returned with noticeably less moving parts during his at bats. He went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk that day and recorded both hits against a left-handed pitcher. One game told very little, but progress was progress. Granderson had two three-hit games over the next few games and slowly inched his numbers towards respectability.
Since his extensive work with Long, Granderson has hit .288/.358/.602 with seven home runs in 21 games, numbers that are notably better than what he has posted beforehand. After Thursday’s game against the Athletic’s and lefties Dallas Braden and Jerry Blevins, Granderson is hitting .248 against righties and .247 against lefties. Again, not overly impressive numbers by any means, but a welcome improvement.
While his season totals remain unspectacular, his performance against lefties since he debuted his re-worked swing are utterly phenomenal. In 21 at-bats, Granderson has posted a line of .428/.476/.809 which translates to a ridiculous 1.285 OPS. In other words, a better number than Mark McGuire posted during his 70-home run season and a better mark than any National League or American League MVP since Barry Bonds in 2004.
Granted it’s an extremely small sample size, but Granderson’s improvement has been a very welcome development for the Yankees. Even more so as they’ve dealt with injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Lance Berkman, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher in the past month. Granderson has been an asset defensively for the Yankees all season, and getting his bat going for the playoffs would be an huge boost to the league’s top-rated offense.
His transition from the Motor City to the City That Never Sleeps hasn’t gone as smoothly as anticipated, but Granderson has played excellent defense in centerfield this year and has been a league average hitter so far in 2010. His rejuvenated offense only makes him that much more of an asset to the Yankees as they attempt to repeat in 2010.