Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Granderson to New York

Two days into the general manager winter meetings in Indianapolis, the Yankees have made their first big move of the offseason.

It has been reported that New York has acquired outfielder Curtis Granderson in a three-way trade with the Detroit Tigers and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In the deal, the Tigers will receive Yankee relief pitcher Phil Coke and top outfield prospect Austin Jackson and the young Arizona starting pitcher Max Scherzer. The Diamondbacks, in turn, will receive right hander Edwin Jackson from Detroit and once top pitching prospect Ian Kennedy from New York.

The Yankees reveive only Granderson.

From a Yankee fan point of view, I believe this is a good move. While it is tough to see Austin Jackson go (a player I was very excited to see in Major League action), Granderson is an exceptional player, and more importantly, a professional.

While he had a subpar season in 2009 (.249/.327/.453) he is a career .272 hitter who averages about 20 home runs and 17 stolen bases a year.

Arizona, who received two major league starting pitchers in the deal, will probably place Jackson and Kennedy in the three and four spots of the Diamondback rotation, behind Brandon Webb and Dan Haren.

The move should make Arizona's rotation one of the best in the majors.

And finally, Detroit, who made it clear at the beginning of the offseason that they would be looking to cut payroll this winter (though it will still remain well above $100 million), receive several above average, major league-ready players who will cost a fraction of the price of one Curtis Anderson.

Other news out of Indy: The Seattle Mariners have officially signed free agent Chone Figgins.

It has not yet been determined where Figgins will play, as the 31-year-old is very versitile in the field. However, he is expected to bat in the number two spot of the lineup, behind right fielder Ichiro Suzuki.

The deal is officially worth $36 million over four years.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Phils Take Care of the Hot Corner, Atlanta Solidifies the Pen

The Phillies have taken care of the hole left at third base by Pedro Feliz after the team declined to pick up his option for 2010.

Philadelphia signed Placido Polanco, who played second base for the Detroit Tigers over the past four plus seasons, to an $18 million, three year contract earlier today. It is his second tenure with Philly (Polanco played for the Phillies from 2002 into 2005).

Polanco, who turned 34 in October, will be an upgrade from Feliz, who hit a combined .258 over his two seasons with the Phils.

A .303 career hitter, Polanco hit .285 with a .331 on-base percentage for Detroit in 2009.

He can be very versatile in terms of his placement in the lineup, as well.

With the Phillie lead-off hitter Jimmy Rollins having a subpar year in 2009, Polanco could take that spot in the lineup, or the second slot as well, which would move centerfielder Shane Victorino down in the lineup.

Placing Polanco eighth in the lineup could also prove to be advantageous. It is always nice to have a runner on base before the pitcher comes to the plate so that the pitcher may lay down a sacrifice bunt. The third baseman's high batting average could certainly help this strategy.

Meanwhile, the Braves have done an excellent job putting together a very solid back-end of the bullpen.

Atlanta, who signed Billy Wagner to a 1-year, $7 million contract yesterday to close for them in 2009, landed setup man Takashi Saito today. The righty pitched to a 2.43 ERA in 55.2 innings pitched with the Red Sox last year.

With the bullpen now solidified, Atlanta can begin to focus on what is really their pressing issue: offense.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Derek Jeter Named Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year"

While Derek Jeter may have missed out on winning the American League MVP Award to Joe Mauer, this is one award no one can take away from him.

It was announced today that Derek Jeter will be named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. This is the first time that a Yankee has won the award in the 56 years of its existence, and the first time a baseball player has won since 2004, when the entire Boston Red Sox team was honored.

Jeter had one of the best years of his career in 2009, as he was ranked in the top ten of several major American League categories. This led to the claiming of his fourth AL Silver Slugger Award and fourth AL Gold Glove.

But, as Sports Illustrated points out, the award does not simply recognize great accomplishments on the field, but off the field as well.

Jeter has been seen working with many charities, particularly with his Turn-2 Foundation, which he founded in 1996.

The organization concentrates on encouraging children to avoid abusive drugs and alcohol, while improving social skills, such as leadership.

It truly makes me happy to see one of my childhood idols win this award. I myself have tried to emulate Derek Jeter in many ways since I was probably about ten years old, both while playing baseball and while presenting myself around other people.

Whether you are trying to copy his batting stance or helping others in need, the Yankee captain is certainly a great example of what a person should strive to be.

Award well deserved.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mauer Nearly Unanimous For AL MVP

The American League Most Valuable Player Award was announced today. As expected, Minnesota Twin backstop Joe Mauer ran away with the honor.

Voting for Mauer was nearly unanimous, as he received 27 of the 28 first place votes. Though he came in fourth, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers received the only other first place vote. Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees came in second and third in the voting, respectively.

The selection of Mauer should come as no surprise to anyone. After missing the first month of the season due to a back injury, the Minnesota native returned from the disabled list firing on all cylinders.

Mauer finished his 2009 campaign with a .365 batting average, winning the American League Batting Title for the third time in his still young career.

He also found a consistent power stroke, belting 26 home runs for the season (a career high) while driving in 96.

To top it off, he led his team to a second consecutive division title, as Minnesota went on to beat the Detroit Tigers in an extra 163rd game to advance to the postseason.

At 26-years-old, Joe Mauer is not even at the peak of his career. If the Twins are smart, they will sign him to a multi-year contract before he becomes a free agent in 2011.

With at least another eight or nine solid years left for Mauer to make his mark on the game, do not be surprised to see another MVP or two attached to his name over the next few seasons.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rookie of the Year Awards Announced

The National League and American League Rookie of the Year Awards were handed out this afternoon. Both of which had most baseball fans asking, "who the heck is that?"

The National League honors went to the Florida Marlin outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Coghlan hit .321 during his first season, with 162 hits, nine home runs, 47 driven in, and an .850 on-base plus slugging percentage in 504 at-bats.

The Florida native finish with 17 first place votes.

Runner-up in the National League was the Philadelphia Phillie southpaw J.A. Happ, who received ten first place votes.

In the American League, Andrew Bailey of the Oakland Athletics took the prize.

Called up in late April, Bailey took over Oakland's full-time closer role in early May and never looked back.

During the season, he managed to break former A's closer Huston Street's record for saves by an Oakland rookie.

He was also the only Athletic named to the All-Star Game held in St. Louis back in July.

Bailey's final stat line for 2009 read 26 saves, a 1.84 earned run average, 91 strikeouts, and a .167 batting average against in 83.1 innings pitched.

Young Texas Ranger phenom Elvis Andrus came in second in the AL voting with eight first place votes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Kid Is Back For Another

Word coming out of the continental northwest today is that Ken Griffey Jr. will return to play for the Seattle Mariners in 2010. It could be the final year of his Hall of Fame career.

The one-year contract is estimated to be worth around $2 million, similar to the contract Griffey signed last year during the first season of his second go-round with the Mariners.

The Home Run Kid may now be a shell of his old self, hitting just .214 with 19 round-trippers and 57 driven in last season. However, his playing for the team is just as important to getting people into Safeco Field, as it is to helping his team win.

Griffey is now fifth place on the all-time home run list with 630 long balls for his career. To watch the man is to watch one of the games last true legends.

I believe that despite his steady decline in production over the past few seasons, this was a good move for both Griffey and the Seattle Mariners.

In other news: Catcher Jason Varitek has opted to stay with the Boston Red Sox for another year, picking up his $3 million player option today.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Red Sox Tying Up The Loose Ends

The Boston Red Sox made a few moves today to ensure that most of their 2009 roster stays intact for 2010.

According to MLB.com, Boston has picked up catcher Victor Martinez's $7.1 million club option for 2010.

Martinez hit .303 with 23 home runs and 108 driven in over the entire 2009 season, while hitting .336 with eight homers and 41 runs batted in after being traded to the Red Sox at the July trade deadline.

This was the Red Sox first order of business coming into the offseason. Martinez has been a consistent player for the better part of seven major league seasons now.

While his defense is not great by any stretch, his bat will more than make up for it batting in the number three spot of the Boston order.

The soon-to-be 31-year-old may prove to be even more valuable if the decline in production that we saw from David Ortiz in 2009 continues to steepen in 2010.

As for Boston's captain, and other catcher, the Red Sox declined Jason Varitek's $5 million club option for 2010 today. Varitek still has a $3 million option of his own with the team. However, it may take some heavy thinking on the 37-year-old's part as to whether or not he wants to be a backup to Martinez , play somewhere else as a starter, or call it a career.

Varitek, whose offensive production has suffered mightily over the past two seasons, batted .209 with 14 home runs in 106 games during 2009.

Boston also resigned knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield to a two-year contract this afternoon.

The financial details of the deal have not yet been released, however WEEI.com has reported that it could be worth $7 million over the two years.

With these loose ends out of the way, the Red Sox can now go after bigger fish on the market.

Currently, their star left-fielder Jason Bay is expected to test the free agent market and the Red Sox have made it no secret that they want him to be in left field again this Opening Day.

Also, with the Seattle Mariners making it clear that they really have not interest in dealing their ace Felix Hernandez, Boston may now be seriously turning its attention towards acquiring Roy Halladay via trade.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thank You, Hideki Matsui

Hey guys. New Article on Bleacher Report:

The Stove Is Already Warming Up

While literally millions of New Yorkers (including myself) were busy celebrating the 27th New York Yankee World Championship up and down downtown New York's Canyon of Heroes, the rest of Major League Baseball began offseason business as usual.

The National League Champion Phillies moved quickly in picking up the 2010 club-option on their lefty ace Cliff Lee.

Lee, who went 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts for Philadelphia during the latter half of 2009, will be owed $9 million in the final year of his contract.

Obviously, this was a no-brainer for the Phillies. After being dealt by the Cleveland Indians at the July 31st trade deadline, Lee gave a shaky Philadelphia starting rotation the stability that it desperately needed. Most noteably in the postseason.

Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA and a 33/6 strikeout to walk ratio during the playoffs this year.

The Phillies surely expect to be back in the thick of things next year, and with a stud like Lee leading the pitching staff, there is no reason to believe that with a little tinkering, Philadelphia could definitely make a run at a third straight appearance in the Fall Classic.

Across the country, both Los Angeles clubs are reported to have retained their respective veteran centerpieces.

The Los Angeles Dodgers recieved good news today when their slugging left fielder Manny Ramirez informed the team that he had decided to excercise his 2010 player option for $20 million.

While Ramirez certainly had a down year in 2009 by his statistical standards (.290 BA, 19 HR, 63 RBI), combined with a 50-game suspenision for illegal use of performance enhancing drugs, one more year of Manny may still serve Los Angeles well. He should once again act as a sure stronghold while the young Dodger core continues to mature.

Bobby Abreu has also decided to stay in Los Angeles with the Angels, according to MLB Network.

The deal is reported to be at least two years long. However, specifics about the salary are yet to be confirmed. Rest assured, though, that after the year Abreu posted in 2009 (.293 BA, 15 HR, 103 RBI, 30 SB) he will be asking for more than the $5 million he recieved in the one year deal that he signed with the Angels last winter.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Playoff Preview: World Series

We are finally here! It's World Series time!

While Major League Baseball and most of its fans may have been salivating over the thought of a Dodgers versus Yankees World Series, an "I-95" series, as some have dubbed it, is definitely the better series from a baseball standpoint.

The Yankees and Phillies easily boast the best line-up in each of their respective leagues.

Headlined by Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees led the American League with 244 home runs this year, while Ryan Howard and the Phillies led the National League with 224.

Together, both teams have hit 468 home runs! That shatters the previous record for the most combined home runs by two teams playing each other in the Fall Classic.

There is also the aspect of one team trying to defend its title from the previous year, while another tries to claim what it believes is its rightful place in the sport.

Last year, Philadelphia rolled over the "Cinderella Story" Tampa Bay Rays in five games to win their first championship since 1980.

This year, the core of the team is the same. However, there have been multiple additions to the team since last October that make the Phillies even scarier than before.

While Philadelphia superstars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley did their thing batting third and fourth in line-up once again, the off-season addition of left fielder Raul Ibanez, and mid-season pickups Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez seemed to make the Phillies even more complete than last year.

Plus, the breakout seasons of Jayson Werth and catcher Carlos Ruiz didn't hurt either.

Up in the Bronx, the Yankees are finally looking like "The Yankees" again, returning to the World Series for the first time since 2003, and their 40th time in franchise history.

I would venture as far to say that last winter's addition of Mark Teixeira to the New York line-up was the smartest offensive signing that the Yankees have made since Reggie Jackson in 1977 (maybe even better, as Teixeira doesn't carry any extra baggage along with his big bat).

Despite his .205 average in the playoffs this year, Teixeira's MVP-caliber season was one of the chief reasons why the Yankees have returned to the playoffs in 2009 after a brief hiatus in 2008.

And while the old guard of Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte have gotten their share of the postseason spotlight, the ALDS and CS were all about two players for the Yankees: CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez.

While CC Sabathia ended up being granted the ALCS MVP Award, most believe that both men equally deserved it, as Rodriguez managed to hit .429 with three home runs in the series.

If they can carry their positive play into the World Series, then it is going to be very hard to beat New York. Especially if Sabathia pitches on short rest, as he did this past week.

The keys to victory for both teams are as follows:

For Philadelphia, the bullpen, which struggled mightily in the regular season, must continue to display the dominance that it has in the postseason.

Closer Brad Lidge, who blew 11 saves during the regular season, has been a perfect three for three in save opportunities during the playoffs.

In addition, relief pitchers such as Chan Ho Park, Chad Durbin, and Scott Eyre, have made it exceedingly difficult to score on the Phillies in late innings.

If the Phillies have any hope of taking home another trophy this year, the 'pen must continue this trend against the Yankees, who have proven to be the comeback kids of 2009.

The Philadelphia line-up must also continue to stay consistent when it comes to getting on base. With the exception of Jimmy Rollins, each of the Phillie's big bats are hitting over .300 during the postseason.

As for New York, AJ Burnett must continue to turn in decent starts.

While he has not been anywhere near dominant during his three postseason starts, he has given the Yankees a chance to win each time he has gone out to the mound.

However, the reason why Burnett is so important to New York goes beyond just giving a good effort. It is because he has the chance to truly set the tone for the series in Game Two.

All assumptions are that CC Sabathia will be able to out-duel Cliff Lee in Game One. If this happens to be the case, Burnett has the opportunity to put the Yankees in prime position with a 2-0 series lead.

But, if Sabathia is defeated by the potent Phillie line-up in Game One, Burnett could decide if the Yankees go to Philadelphia in a 0-2 hole, or tied 1-1.

It is also important to note that manager Joe Girardi has stated that Jose Molina, who has become Burnett's personal catcher during the playoffs, will not be a guarantee to be Burnett's catcher. Particularly if Burnett is called on to pitch Game Five in Philadelphia, where the line-up will already be weakened by the pitcher's spot in the order.

In addition, the Yankee bats must wake up and deliver with runners on base.

It has been easy to overlook the failure of the New York line-up to both get on base and drive runners in with Alex Rodriguez carrying the offense on his back. However, many of the Yankee starters have been in a bit of a slump. Melky Cabrera is the only other Yankee starter hitting over .300 for the postseason.

Even Derek Jeter, who posted excellent numbers in the ALDS, struggled a bit in the ALCS, batting .259 (7-27).

While Girardi continued to keep the same line-up on the field for the entire ALCS, it will be interesting to see if he makes any moves involving players such as Nick Swisher or Robinson Cano, who have slumped for the majority of the postseason.

In the end, I expect the New York to persevere and defeat Philadelphia due to two words: Mariano Rivera.

A great challenge will be constructing a bridge from the starting pitcher to Mo each game, but if this can be done, the chances for the Yankees go way up.

Prediction: New York Yankees over the Philadelphia Phillies in seven games.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thhhheeeee Yankees Win!

Well, the Yankees made it official last night. They are going to the World Series for the first time since 2003, when they lost the championship to Josh Beckett and the Florida Marlins.

I, myself, was actually at the game last night. I was able to see my beloved Yankees finally overcome their demons and beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the playoffs for the first time, first hand.

I, for one, was actually surprised at the ease in which the Yankees overtook Los Angeles.

That is not to take anything away from the Angels. They were a very formidable opponent.

However, in many instances, the Angels beat themselves more so than they were beaten by the Yankees. The usually defensively sound Angels committed eight errors during the six game series - many of which led to damage.

CC Sabathia was awarded the ALCS MVP for his two absolutely dominant pitching performances in Games One and Four.

Sabathia went 2-0 while pitching 16 innings over the two games (eight innings in each). In addition, he fanned 20 while surrendering only two runs.

Consideration for the award also went to the rejuvenated Alex Rodriguez, who went 9-21 in the series with three home runs and six runs batted in, including his memorable game-tying homer in the 11th inning of Game Two.

Other noteworthy ALCS performances would include those of Mariano Rivera (7.0 IP, 2 SV, 1 ER), Johnny Damon (9-30, 2 HR, 5 RBI) and Melky Cabrera (9-23, 4 RBI, 3 BB).

For Los Angeles, Vladimir Guerrero batted .370 (10-27) with a home run and five runs batted in, while Angel ace John Lackey pitched 12.1 innings and posted a 3.65 earned run average.

New York will now go on to play the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

Philadelphia easily handled the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team with the National League's best regular season record in 2009, by putting them away in five games during the NLCS.

The Fall Classic is scheduled to start on Wednesday night, though the time of the first pitch is yet to be determined.

Every World Series game can be seen on Fox.

I will be back either later tonight or tomorrow to preview this year's World Series, which should prove to be an excellent match-up between two teams which both possess a power-laden lineup and a dominant starting pitching staff.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Playoff Preview: Championship Series

After a division series round which featured three sweeps and one four game series win, the real fun will begin tonight, as the NLCS between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers will open at Dodger Stadium. That will be followed by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Yankee Stadium to kick of the ALCS tomorrow night.

I cannot begin to describe how excited I am for both of these series.

Yes, it would have been nice to see another epic Boston versus New York ALCS, however, it is my belief that the two matchups that his year has dealt to us could not have been chosen any better.

Philadelphia Phillies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

For those of you with a short memory, this will be a rematch of last year's NLCS. The Phillies would take care of the Dodgers quite convincingly in five games and go on to win the World Series in 2008.

However, this year should be entirely different for one reason, and that is the maturity of the Dodgers.

Last year, the whole team basically tried to ride Manny Ramirez's bat through the playoffs and to the World Series. That plan did not end up working out very well, as Ramirez's bat proved to be nowhere near enough to counteract the Philadelphia lineup and dominant, young pitching.

This year, the rest of the starting lineup has managed to make itself heard. While a few of the team's established veterans appeared to regress, including the previously mentioned Ramirez, the Dodger youngsters did a great amount of speaking with their bats.

Outfielders Andre Eithier (coming off an impressive NLDS performance) and Matt Kemp, the future core of the organization, both had career years. Each hit for about a .300 average with over 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in. 25-year old first baseman James Loney and 26-year old catcher Russell Martin managed to turn in solid years as well.

Turning attention to the starting rotation, manager Joe Torre announced that he plans to have young phenom Clayton Kershaw, who went 6.2 innings while giving up two runs during his NLDS Game Two start, start Game One of this series.

Kershaw will be followed by Vincent Padilla in the rotation.

Padilla pitched seven shutout innings during Los Angeles's clinching game over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.

The combo of Kershaw and Padilla should give the Dodgers an excellent one-two punch to open up the series. Power arms are something that is extremely valued when it comes to October baseball and these two can really blow the opposition away if they are on their game.

Randy Wolfe, who lasted only 3.2 innings during his Game One start in the NLDS, will get the Game Three start. And as for Game Four, look for the Hiroki Kuroda to get the start over the unreliable Chad Billingsley if the Dodgers are down in the series.

However, if the Los Angeles is up, I would definitely not be surprised to see Billingsley in there, as he has the ability to deliver electric stuff from the mound.

On the other side of the diamond, there is really not much to say. The power-packed lineup of the defending World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies is quite a site to behold.

Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jason Werth, and Raul Ibanez, the heart of the Phillie lineup, hit for a combined .367 batting average against the Colorado Rockies in their NLDS. And while the Dodger pitching is a step above that of Colorado, cooling the bats of these four down is a very hard task to accomplish.

If leadoff man Jimmy Rollins can get his bat going, and Shane Victorino continues to deliver in the two-hole, setting up Utley and Howard, the lineup will be even more dangerous.

Cole Hamels, who shut the Dodgers down in last year's NLCS, will start Game One. And Cliff Lee, coming off of a very impressive performance during the NLDS (16.1 IP, 2 ER) will start Game Two.

Ultimately, I expect this series to come down to the bullpen, and in that department, Los Angeles has the upper hand.

While Philadelphia closer Brad Lidge seems to have found a grove (for now), and the rest of the bullpen was not terrible during the first playoff series, their regular season stats (44 SV in 66 SVO this season - good for last in the majors) do not paint a pretty picture.

To compare the Phillie bullpen to a mediocre bullpen would be hard to do, nevermind the Dodger bullpen, which is one of the best in the league. And if the past has taught us anything, it is that, most of the time, the team with the best bullpen goes the farthest.

I would say that the starting rotation among the teams is about even, and would give the Phillies a slight edge in the starting lineup.

But the disparity between the two 'pens will ultimately give Los Angeles the series.

Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers over Philadelphia Phillies in seven.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. New York Yankees

Wow. This was unexpected.

Just as Yankee and Red Sox fans were getting the war paint ready yet again, the Angels threw both respective fans a curveball (no pun intended).

I must admit, I expected the Angels to finally get that huge monkey off their back and beat Boston this year. But, I did not expect it to happen in three games! With the clincher being in Fenway Park!

If you were to tell me that you expected the Angels to wrap the ALDS up in as neatly a little package as they did, I would laugh in your face and make some kind of comment about your pants being on fire.

The Angels barely gave the Boston a chance to breathe in Games One and Two and came back to win Game Three in the ninth inning against the all-mighty Jonathan Papelbon. Not even Nostradamus saw that one coming.

Yet, I digress. That is now the past, and I can't help but smile from ear to ear thinking about what the next week of baseball has in store for us.

While Red Sox-Yankees would have been fun for the Northeast, believe me when I say that Angels-Yankees is going to be a better series.

I personally think it would have taken the Yankees five games to get past the Red Sox.

Now, we've got major drama. Two totally different types of forces colliding: the New York Yankees, who can basically bludgeon a team to death with their offense, versus the Los Angeles Angels, who have the ability to "steal" a series right out from under their opponent.

The teams went 5-5 against each other in regular season play this year. And while the Yankees were swept by the Angels during their first visit to Angels Stadium in July, New York managed to salvage the final two games of a three game series during their second visit to the West Coast in September.

Most believe that those two games will prove to have worked wonders for the Yankee psyche in the long run. However, the Angels still play a brand of baseball that the Yankees are very uncomfortable with and not used to seeing.

For example, Los Angeles can manufacture a run by a Chone Figgins slapping a base hit to the opposite field, stealing second base, moving to third base on a groundout to the right side by Bobby Abreu, and scoring on a deep fly ball by Torii Hunter. They play like this very consistently.

Conversely, the Yankees have the ability to easily get that run back with a 450-foot Alex Rodriguez home run.

But with the Angels constantly showing off their wheels, the Yankees are going to have to make sure that they keep the mistakes to a minimum, no matter how many home runs they are capable of hitting once they get their turn in the box.

Overthrows, pass-balls, and walks would ultimately lead to New York's demise. And with the Angel ability to "make things happen", sloppy play by the Yankees is not out of the realm of possibility.

As expected, CC Sabathia will start Game One for New York, followed by AJ Burnett and Andy Pettitte in Games Two and Three, respectively. Yet, in a curious move by manager Joe Girardi, Sabathia will most probably start Game Four instead of Joba Chamberlain or Chad Gaudin.

While I prefer seeing Chamberlain stay in the bullpen and I do not trust Gaudin in a big spot, Sabathia's previous track record starting on short rest in the playoffs is not anything to speak of. Although, the Yankees did not ask Sabathia to pitch on short rest to finish up the regular season as the Milwaukee Brewers did last year.

Still, it is still a risky move by Girardi.

Angel manager Mike Soscia did a little tinkering with his rotation as well. Most notably, Scott Kazmir, who owns a 2.74 career ERA against New York and is used to pitching against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium from his days with the Tampa Bay Rays, will not start in either Game One or Two in the Bronx, but in Game Four back in Anaheim.

While the move may seem a little confusing, Los Angeles still will send out two legitimate starting pitchers in John Lackey and Joe Saunders, who had a very solid year of his own.

Both rotations stack up pretty evenly against each other. And if, as I mentioned earlier, the Yankees can keep the Angels under control on the basepaths, the lineups should stay in tune with each other as well.

Once again, as is the case in the NLCS, the ALCS, in all likelihood, will be decided by the bullpen. And in that department, New York is greatly favored.

If any Yankee starter is able to make it through six innings, the game will be turned over to a bullpen which include the extremely talented young arms of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Dave Robertson.

And, of course, there is Mariano Rivera.

The Angel bullpen has been week this year. And while Brian Fuentes is an All-Star caliber closer, he has shown a tendency to be soft in big spots.

That, mixed with the fact that the Yankees have 16 walk-off wins this year, does not bode for Los Angeles.

Yes, the Angels are going to give the Yankees a very hard fought effort, but New York's modern day "Murderer's Row" seems to be destined to make it to the World Series this year.

Prediction: New York Yankees over Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in seven.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Weekend In Review

Well, I gave my opinion on each of the four Division Series last week, and so far, I have been right on two of three of them (though I was off in the games).

By 10:30 last night, we had three division series in the books. Each series being a sweep.

The first series to wrap up was the Dodgers and Cardinals on Saturday night, in which the Dodgers swept the Cardinals with ease.

I am sure that I am not alone in saying that this greatly surprised me. However, Joe Torre and his squad managed to do it again.

While the celebration on Saturday night was kept to a minimum, the Los Angeles took care of St. Louis in impressive fashion.

The Dodgers barely gave the Cards a chance to breath during Games One and Three, taking early leads. And, aided by a huge Matt Holliday error, were able to come back to snatch Game Two in the bottom of the ninth inning due in large part to the clutch performances of role players Ronnie Belliard and Mark Loretta.

While St. Louis got two above-average performances from Cy Young candidates Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in their respective starts, the lack of pop in the Cardinal lineup was badly exposed.

Joe Torre made it a point that he would pitch around Albert Pujols at the beginning of the series. However, Matt Holliday made the decision to do so that much easier by hitting just .167 while batting behind the Cardinal first baseman.
The rest of the Cardinal lineup managed to hit .272 overall, which is not terrible. Yet, they were unable come up with the big hit at the right time, which should reiterate the point to the Cardinal front office: Albert Pujols simply cannot do everything!

In addition, while Holliday's previously mentioned dropped fly ball in left field would be inexcusable for a high school athlete, nevermind a major league player, what was also inexcusable was closer Ryan Franklin's inability to shake off the play and continue to do his job.
Great closers are able to put everything else out of their mind and focus on the task at hand. Franklin could not do this, further providing evidence for why he should be considered both a failed starter and closer.

Meanwhile, on a Sunday afternoon in New England, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were busy doing something that they had never done in their history: beat the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs.

I was stunned to see Boston, whose 56-25 record at home in 2009 was good for second in baseball, actually drop a playoff game to the Angels in Fenway Park, nevermind lose a series there.

However, victory in Fenway did not come easy to Los Angeles.

After starters John Lackey and Jered Weaver utterly dominated the Sox in Games One and Two, Los Angeles new-comer Scott Kazmir struggled, giving up five runs over six innings.

However, with a 5-4 lead and on the brink of elimination, Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon came in during the eighth inning to close the game out.

After Boston added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning to push the score to 6-4, Papelbon promptly served up three runs to the Angels in the top of the ninth. The "key" at bat being Angel right fielder Bobby Abreu's double off the Green Monster to make the score 6-5.

Boston went quietly to follow up, failing to put a runner on in the bottom of the ninth, thus handing the series over to Los Angeles.

Later that night, in Minnesota, the Twins lost to the Yankees in what could be considered one of the most unlucky playoff series in the history of baseball.
Minnesota had two glaring weaknesses in this series. Firstly, failing to score with runners in scoring position became a bit of a trend for the club, exemplified by the 17 runners left on base during Friday night's heart-breaking Game Two loss.

Secondly, Twin closer Joe Nathan, easily one of the top five best closers in the league, was unable to resemble the dominant force that we have all grown so accustomed to seeing.

During Nathan's lone appearance in the series, he gave up a game tying two-run homer to Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning of Game Two which would send the game into extra innings.

And while Mark Teixeira's walk-off home run won the game for New York, the play of the game that will forever live in infamy was catcher Joe Mauer's "foul ball" called by third base umpire Phil Cuzzi. In actuality, the ball should have been a ground-rule double that, in all likelihood, would have allowed Mauer to score on a base hit later on in the inning.
However, that just seemed to be the way things went for the Twins this past week.

In addition to the atrocious call on Friday night, the Twin base-running was absolutely putrid, as a handful of rallies were killed by a dumb move on the base-path.
Finally, the Cinderella story has come to an end.

The one series still being played features the Colorado Rockies and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Philadelphia leads that series 2-1, with Game Four coming tonight at 6:07.

I should be back with an Championship Series preview similar to my Division Series one once the remaining series is decided.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Playoff Preview: Division Series

It is finally here! October baseball!

While some match-ups look to be very exciting, others could prove to be a little lopsided.

Here is my breakdown. Leading off, the National League:

Colorado Rockies vs. Philadelphia Phillies

This may be a more exciting match-up than it appears.

The Phillies may be favored, but Colorado has proven in the past that you can never count out a "Cinderella Story."

Philadephia has both the better starting lineup and starting rotation. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard once again proved in 2009 why they are arguably the scariest offensive right side of the infield. Raul Ibanez also had a pretty solid first year in the City of Brotherly Love, while Jason Werth had a career year with 36 home runs and 99 runs batted in, while swiping 20 and walking 91 times.

If Jimmy Rollins can break out of the funk that has seemed to plague him all season long (.250 BA, .296 OBP - both career lows), then the Phillie lineup will be absolutely lethal.

Out on the mound, Philadelphia's mid-season acquisitions of southpaw Cliff Lee and the always entertaining Pedro Martinez make the starting rotation extremely solid.

Lee should get the Game One start with Cole Hamels in Game Two and Pedro in Game Three. Rookie J.A. Happ would probably get the nod in a Game Four, should the series come down to that.

On the contrary, Philadelphia's weakness comes in the bullpen. Closer Brad Lidge who went a perfect 41 for 41 in save opportunities last season managed to blow 11 saves this season (leading the majors).

As a whole, the Phillie bullpen has blown 22 saves this season, so a lead in late innings does not mean a guarunteed win for Philadelphia.

Colorado had started the year off terribly under manager Clint Hurdle, going 18-28 under their former skipper. However, the team has since seemed to turn it around since the arrival of new manager Jim Tracy.

The Rockies have compiled a 74-42 record since Hurdle's departure.

In addition to claiming the National League Wild Card, Colorado even made a run at the National League West Division, keeping Los Angeles fans biting their nails until the second to last day of the regular season.

Simply put, while the Rockies do not have the talent of Philadelphia, they come into the playoffs riding a hot streak, just as they had in 2007 when they appeared in the World Series.

Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies over Colorado Rockies in five games.

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Back in April and May, most people already had Los Angeles penciled in as the National League Champions. Now, that is not the case.

With a shaky starting pitching staff and their biggest slugger, Manny Ramirez, in a painful slump, Los Angeles has stumbled a bit down the stretch.

As mentioned, the Colorado Rockies almost managed to steal the division away from them in September.

In addition, many experts have pointed out that the Dodger core may just be too young to truly take the team all the way. While players such as Matt Kemp, Andre Eithier, and James Loney each had very good years, they may not have the discipline required to take a team to the World Series.

On the other side of the diamond, the Cardinals have, arguably, the best 1-2 punch in baseball, with starters Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright serving as a very formidable two-headed monster.

And of course, the Cardinals lineup contains some guy named Albert Pujols, who, after starting the year on fire, has appeared to slow down. However, protection from newly acquired left fielder Matt Holliday makes St. Louis's power threat very legitimate.

While I would expect this series to be much closer than most people are making it seem, the St. Louis pitching staff will probably prove to be too much for the stumbling Dodgers to handle, even under the guidance of manager Joe Torre.

Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals over Los Angeles Dodgers in four games.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. Boston Red Sox

This has become a classic post-season rivalry, even if it has been grossly one-sided over the past five years.

Since 2004, the Red Sox and Angels have faced each other in the ALDS three times. Boston has won all three of those series, sweeping Los Angeles in two of the three.

This year, the Angels come into post-season play as the American League West Champions, while the Sox come in as the Wild Card.

Both teams appear to be very even, especially on the mound. On paper, both pitching staffs would appear to be equal, however, Angel ace John Lackey has not been himself this year and a good part of the rotation has been injured for a good portion of the year.

Boston, on the other hand, has their post-season magician in Josh Beckett going for them in Game Two, with 15-game winner Jon Lester set to go in Game One.

Conversely, the offenses could not be more different.

The Red Sox boast a power-packed, patient lineup. It features on-base machines the likes of Jason Bay, J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis, and even 5'7" second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Don't forget about Big Papi either. The average may have been down this year, but the ability to change the game with one swing of the bat is still very much there.

The Angels are built on speed and aggressiveness. Not only did they lead the American League in stolen bases for 2009 (148), but they also lead the league in moving from first to third on singles.

It is that aggressive nature that could make the Angels a nightmare for the Red Sox, especially for the Boston pitching staff and catchers. Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez have thrown out an extremely unimpressive 14.5% of base-stealers.

In addition, the Angels can answer Boston's power with the always dangerous Vladimir Guerrero, the surprise of the year Kendry Morales, and the always versatile Bobby Abreu.

Call me a bias Yankee fan, but I believe that this may finally be the year that Los Angeles gets the best of Boston.

Prediction: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim over Boston Red Sox in five games.

Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees

Well, it meant overcoming unbelievable odds, but the Minnesota Twins will make it to the post-season for the fifth time in the last eight seasons.

Minnesota's comeback from seven games down with 26 left to play in early September came to a climax earlier this evening, as they beat the Detroit Tigers 6-5 in a one-game tiebreaker.

Now they turn to their attention to the well-rested boys in the Bronx.

The Yankees have been sitting pretty for a solid week and a half now, clinching their division and home field advantage on September 27th.

New York has also won the luxury of setting up their pitching rotation exactly the way that they want it, with CC Sabathia starting tomorrow and A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte to follow in Games Two and Three, respectively.

Meanwhile, the exhausted Twins will send rookie starter Brian Duensing, who has never pitched in the Bronx before, to the mound for tomorrow's 6:07 start.

While Minnesota has shown that it certainly has fight, going up against the New York lineup may prove to be a daunting task for a team that hasn't known the meaning of the word "rest" for a good three to four weeks now.

One thing the Twins could claim to have on their side is momentum. One of baseball's greatest cliches is that winning in the playoffs largely has to do with who is hot at the right time. However, this may not be enough to counteract against the power-laden Yankees.

The fact is that in addition to not having the talent that the Yankees have, the Twins may soon run out of gas, as well - especially after the 12 inning classic they participated in tonight.

In addition, the Yankees-Twins regular season series ended with a final record of 7-0 in favor of the Bombers in 2009.

Sad to say, but I would look for this heart warming story to come to an end in the Bronx.

Prediction: New York Yankees over Minnesota Twins in three games.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Twins and Tigers to Play Tiebreaker

Unless you are completely oblivious to the national sports media, you know that the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers will be playing a tiebreaker game this Tuesday in Minnesota's Metrodome.

Minnesota claims the right to host the game since they won the 2009 regular season series against the Tigers.

I realize I am a little late on breaking this, but just to reiterate, the probable pitchers are Scott Baker for the Twins (15-9, 4.36) and Rookie of the Year candidate Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.04) for the Tigers.

2009 marks the third year in a row that baseball has seen a one-game "playoff" (Colorado over San Diego for the National League Wild Card in '07, Chicago over Minnesota for the American League Central Division in '08), the longest such streak of its kind.

The winner of the game will go on to play the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on either Wednesday or Thursday.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fixing The Wild Card

There has been some talk floating around this September regarding ideas to add a second wild card spot to both leagues.

When I first heard of any idea involving changing baseball's playoff format, I was not in favor of it. Hey, maybe I don't like change. Neither do a great many fans of the game.

But after a dismal September in terms of pennant races, I am beginning to think that another wild card team would not be such a bad idea.

The NFL season is still young, only wrapping up week three. Yet, already, the interest of most cities has turned away from the diamond and to the gridiron. Even the Giants and the Jets have been the main talk of baseball-happy New York over the cruising Yankees and the dismal Mets.

Now, I am sure teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, and maybe even the Rockies will reclaim their respective town's attention once October finally gets here; but why lose the September ratings in towns such as San Francisco, Atlanta, and Chicago?

A greater chance to get into the playoffs would mean a longer interest in those teams five or six games out of the wild card.

In addition, many fans and experts alike believe that there is not enough incentive to win the division, and that many teams are happy simply settling for the wild card spot.

This is, of course, bad for competition. There needs to be a greater sense of urgency to win for teams in August and September.

Though I cannot claim my solution to be completely original, what it is is a combination of everything I have heard.

As I mentioned, there would be two wild card teams from both the American and National League. Those two teams would then play each other to see who advances to play the team with the best record in each respective league.

For example, if the season were to end today, the Red Sox would play a series against the Rangers in the American League, and the Rockies would play the Braves in the National League.

After those series are finished, the rest of the playoffs would proceed as they do now. The Red Sox would go on to play the Angels or the Rangers would play the Yankees, while the winner of the Colorado and Atlanta series would play the Dodgers.

Using this year as an example, the American League wild card race would still consist of only Boston and Texas. However, over in the National League, San Francisco, Florida, and the Chicago Cubs would each be at least within four games of getting to the playoffs, as opposed to within six under the current format.

The question now becomes how long the extra series would be.

Most people would automatically suggest a a best of three series. It would make sense, seeing as how the Division Series is a best of five, and the Championship and World Series both consist of a best of seven.

However, I believe that, for the sake of not having the World Series go deeper into November, it should simply be a one game series.

It could be called the "AL and NL Wild Card Series" or, more appropriately, "The AL and NL Wild Card Games" and could be played on the Monday following the season, with one game starting at four o'clock and another starting at eight.

In addition, this would force all wild card teams to use their best starting pitcher for the one game playoff, thus giving the winning teams a disadvantage once they advance to the Division Series.

This model would serve as a solution to both lower ratings in cities not in the pennant race, and would certainly add to each team's will to win the most games possible.

While it may seem weird at first, I believe that this is very necessary for the sake of Major League Baseball.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Could Be Major Drama: Tigers vs. Twins

It has been an eventful weekend. While the games may not have been the most exciting, the playoff picture is starting to come to form.

The New York Yankees managed to officially take the American League East and home field advantage throughout the playoffs by beating the Red Sox this afternoon.

Meanwhile, out in Colorado, the fighting Rockies gave way to the Cardinals on Saturday night, allowing St. Louis to claim the National League Central Division.

In addition, the Los Angeles Dodgers were able to at least secure a playoff spot. They can now concentrate on moving ahead of the afore mentioned Cardinals to take home-field advantage in the National League.

With most other teams a game or two away from wrapping up their respective divisions, the focus this week now turns to the American League Central, which features the only real race left - and what a race it has been. Quite fittingly, it will all culminate this week as the Minnesota Twins, two games back of the Tigers in the division, will make their way into Detroit for a four game series.

You want drama? You've got it.

In a perfect world, Detroit would like to welcome Minnesota in Comerica Park by winning three out of four, which would give the Tigers the division. But, if the Twins have proven anything over the last month, it is that they are not ready to go down without a fight.

Conversely, if Minnesota can manage to win three out of four, it would send both teams into the final weekend of the regular season tied atop the Central, with the Tigers welcoming in the White Sox and the Twins going home to play the Royals.

However, we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves here.

Probable pitching matchups for the series are as follows:

  • Nick Blackburn, RHP (11-11, 4.18) vs. Rick Porcello, RHP (14-9, 4.14)
  • Brian Duensing, LHP (5-1, 3.33) vs. Justin Verlander, RHP (17-9, 3.41)
  • Carl Pavano, RHP (13-11, 4.86) vs. Eddie Bonine, RHP (0-1, 4.60)
  • Scott Baker, RHP (14-9, 4.48) vs. Nate Robertson, LHP (2-2, 5.56)
Detroit may have the slight advantage in terms of pitching, but I emphasize the word "slight". The Tiger staff contains more talent, yet it holds more question marks.

Look for both offenses to step up. MVP hopeful Miguel Cabrera has been hot for the Detroit lately (reaching 100 runs batted in for the sixth year in a row on Saturday), while the Twins, led by Joe Mauer, have gone 8-2 since clean up hitter Justin Morneau went down with a stress fracture in his lower back on September 15th.

Another race?: The Atlanta Braves still stand only 2.5 games behind the Colorado Rockies in the National League Wild Card Race. While the teams do not play each other before the season ends, it definitely should prove to be an exciting finish to what has been an intriguing race since late August.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The AL Cy Young Picture

As the regular season starts to wind down, postseason match-ups are not the only topic debated by both the experts and the fans. Who will receive what award starts to become a very heavily discussed matter around this time of year.

Today we turn to the American League Cy Young award.

This year's race can easily be narrowed down to just a handful of candidates. However, once you have your finalists picked, the task of separating the best becomes quite tricky.

The Favorites

Zack Greinke - Kansas City Royals
15-8, 2.08 ERA, 229 SO

Zack Greinke solidified his reputation as one of the American League's elite pitchers in 2009. He has always shown the ability to be a solid pitcher, but no one had expected him to be this good.

On a team which is now 25 games under .500, Greinke is on pace for 16 wins. He should also finish up the year around the 250 mark in strikeouts and he currently leads the league with his microscopic 2.08 ERA.

In addition, he managed to pitch six complete games.

The 25-year-old Greinke is a great story as well, as his stellar season has come just two years after he had to take time off from the game to battle his social anxiety syndrome and bout with depression.

Felix Hernandez - Seattle Mariners
16-5, 2.45 ERA, 196 SO

This would not be the first time that the young Seattle ace garnered positive attention, but it would be his first time receiving Cy Young type of attention.

Some of the experts believe that Hernandez actually has the advantage over Greinke due to a higher win total and a tougher division. In my opinion, those may not be the best reasons to take "King Felix", as he is affectionatly called by the Mariner faithful, over Greinke. However, if Hernandez was to win the award, it would be hard to argue against it.

2009 has certainly been Hernandez's best year, as he has set career highs in almost every major statistical category.

He ranks at least within the American League's top four in wins, earned run average, and strikeouts while logging well over 200 innings.

Perhaps With A Strong Finish...

CC Sabathia - New York Yankees
18-7, 3.31 ERA, 186 SO

Already 2007's AL Cy Young winner, Sabathia did not disappoint during the first season of his seven year, $161 million contract. The New York Yankees made it clear that Sabathia's responsiblity was to be a true ace of the staff and Sabathia did just that.

He currently leads the major leagues in wins with 18 and managed to pitch his way into at least the seventh inning during almost evey start, something not consistently done in this day and age.

While the Cy Young may be out of reach for this year, New York can at least be assured that they got a solid return on investment after CC's 2009 performance.

Justin Verlander - Detroit Tigers
16-9, 3.44 ERA, 245 SO

After a brutal 2008 (11-17, 4.84 ERA, 163 SO), Verlander returned back to form this year.

The Detroit ace leads the American League in strikeouts and has pitched three complete games.

If Verlander doesn't manage to take the Cy Young home with him this year, he can at least look forward to getting some consideration for the American League Comeback Player of the Year.

The Long Shot

Roy Halladay - Toronto Blue Jays
15-10, 3.01 ERA, 193 SO

Remember this guy?

It seems that after having a first half in which people could not stop talking about him (10-3, 2.85 ERA), Halladay cooled off a bit in the second half of the season (5-7, 3.21 ERA); particularly after numerous trade talks involving him kept popping up around the trade deadline.

Nevertheless, Halladay's end-of-season numbers should look very good, as they always do.

Despite Toronto's sub-par offense, Halladay managed to rack up 15 wins, while going the complete distance seven times.

Perhaps the Blue Jays will finally put an end to the 32-year-old Halladay's misery this offseason and finally ship him off to an actual contender. It would be awesome to see this guy go to work in the playoffs, don't you think?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Where We Stand

After a huge football weekend, there were still some pretty important series going on in Major League Baseball. Ground was both lost and gained in many different spots.

American League East

The Boston Red Sox still remained strong throughout the weekend. As expected, they swept the Baltimore Orioles. They now stand five games behind the Yankees (four in the loss column), who dropped two of three to the Seattle Mariners over the weekend.

It is not time for New York to panic - yet. The Yankees have lost five of their last nine to teams that they really should have put away with ease, while the Sox have continued to cruise.

There is a bit of a silver lining for the Bombers, however, as a win against the Angels tonight OR a Texas Rangers loss would at least give New York a guarunteed playoff berth.

That said, the Yankees would love to take the division, which is something they haven't done since 2006. Their magic number to clinch stands at 9.

American Leauge Central

The Minnesota Twins continue to keep things interesting, taking two of three from the Detroit Tigers this weekend.

The loss of Justin Morneau to injury certainly makes things a bit more challenging, however Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer has picked up the pace, going 7 for 24 this past week with four home runs and 11 runs batted in.

Minnesota finishes up the weekend only three games back of Detroit. And to make things even more exciting, these two will meet again a week from today in Detroit for the first game of a four game series.

Keep an eye on this, because it appears to be far from over.

American League West

Not that anyone in the Angels organization was that concerned, but the Angels took two out of three from the second place Texas Rangers over the weekend.

Texas now stands 7.5 games behind Los Angeles, as the Rangers continue to falter down the stretch.

American League Wild Card

The American Leauge West wasn't the only place where the Rangers lost ground over the weekend.

After Boston's sweep of Baltimore over the weekend, Texas is now eight games behind the Red Sox in the Wild Card.

Barring a miracle, it appears that the Texas Ranger season will end at 162 games. However, a great amount of positives can be taken out of this season for the young team. For one, they are just that: young. Players such as Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton, and Chris Davis should give Texas fans a great amount of hope for the future.

In addition, the guidance of team president Nolan Ryan has refocused the organizations concentration on aquiring solid, young pitching. This was something sorely lacking on the sub-par Ranger teams of the early to mid 2000's.

The pieces will continue to come together, as I would expect this team to be an absolute powerhouse in another season or two.

National League East

It belongs to the Phillies - enough said.

Philadelphia has been on cruise control for the last month or so. They lead the second place Florida Marlins by eight games.

Right now, manager Charlie Manuel should be concentrating on getting his team ready for the playoffs, particularly his bullpen, which has proven to be the team weakness all season long.

Magic number: 6

National League Central

After taking two of three from the rival Chicago Cubs over the weekend, the Cardinals are in even better shape, division-wise, than the Phillies.

The aquisition of outfielder Matt Holliday in late July has ended up being one of the most ingenius moves of the season.

Since joining St. Louis, Holliday owns a .355 average with a .413 on-base percentage. In addition, he has offered excellent protection for Albert Pujols in the Cardinal lineup.

The performances of pitchers Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter should also have St. Louis fans feeling confident about the NLDS, as they provide an excellent one-two punch.

St. Louis's magic number to take the Central is 4.

National League West

The Colorado Rockies are still hanging around in the West at five games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers have stayed consistent since mid-summer, when they began to cool off a bit after Manny Ramirez's return.

While solid pitching has carried them through much of the season, the Los Angeles offense, while not completely overpowering, still poses a threat, as it has the ability to "make things happen."

Late surges by players such as Andre Eithier, Matt Kemp, and James Loney also supply good news for Los Angeles. With strong showings from the young core, the Dodgers may not have to completely rely on Manny's bat for offense through the playoffs, which proved to be one of their downfalls last year after losing the NLCS to Philadelphia.

National League Wild Card

The race still remains close after the weekend, although San Francisco dropped a game in the standings.

The Giants, Marlins, and Braves currently stand 4.5, 5, and 5.5 games behind the Rockies, respectively.

Still, no teams have given up hope. As Braves third baseman Chipper Jones points out, "It's not over until you're mathematically eliminated...we still need to take care of business."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

NL Wild Card Living Up To Its Name

With a little over two weeks left to go in the regular season, most division races are pretty much wrapped up. Sure, some teams can make are certainly capable of making a late push. However, here on September 17th, history will be working against cities hoping for some kind of Cinderella story.

With the Texas Rangers faultering in the Wild Card, it appears that everything in the American League is set. In addition, the closest division race in the National League is now the Los Angeles Dodgers's five game lead over the Colorado Rockies in the National League West.

At this point, it is time to turn to the National League Wild Card for a glimpse at the last great race before the postseason. Three teams are currently within five games of the leading Rockies: the San Francisco Giants (3.5 GB), the Florida Marlins (4.5 GM), and the Atlanta Braves (5.0 GB).

A 4-3 win by the Rockies last night marked the last time that they will see the Giants in the regular season.

The remainder of Colorado's schedule is filled with both highs and lows. While they will be playing a few sub-500 teams over the next two and a half weeks (Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Milwaukee Brewers), they will welcome the Central Division leading St. Louis Cardinals into Coors Field next weekend, and will be visiting the Dodgers for the last series of the season (a game which could have more at stake than just solidifying the Wild Card).

The Giants schedule appears to be smooth sailing ahead once this weekend's series with bitter rival Los Angeles is over. The only challenge after this weekend would appear to be the four game series with the underachieving Chicago Cubs next weekend.

Out on the East Coast, the Marlins and Braves are still in it to win it.

The Braves have simply not been able to get over the hump all season long. Starters such as Jair Jurrjens and Derek Lowe are going to need to lead the way to make up for what has seemed like a bland offense all year if they have any hope at five games behind.

The Marlins are always a dangerous team. Amazingly, they somehow seem to stay competitive every year, despite having such a putrid payroll. The lineup is filled with a long list of young studs, starting with National League batting leader Hanley Ramirez.

In addition, every starter is capable of pitching an absolute gem on any given day.

While the Marlins are a long shot, they are still a very scary team which Colorado and San Francisco cannot fall asleep on.

The Braves and Marlins actually play each other one more time this season in Atlanta. However, that will not matter if Colorado stays on its current pace.

While the Rockies have shown a tendency to be streaky all year long, still look for them to claim the Wild Card spot for themselves, as they did back in 2007.

If hurlers Jason Marquis and Umbaldo Jimenez can keep the rotation afloat and give the offense a chance to win every night, then Colorado has shown that it can compete with just about anyone in the National League.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Yankees Had Better Get Their Act Together

So far, 2009 has proven to be the most exciting year for the New York Yankees since 2001. Clutch hitting late in games seems to be a recurring theme, there are finally some reliable arms in the bullpen, and most importantly, strong team chemistry seems to be back.

The team's dominance since the All-Star break has led many people to believe that the Yankees are uncontested favorites to be the American League representative in the World Series. You would be a fool to pick against the Bronx Bombers with a year like this, right? Well, not so fast.

There is no debating it. The Yankees are currently the best team in baseball. They lead the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim by five games in the loss column for the best record in the American League, which would give them home field advantage throughout the playoffs (a vastly overrated benefit if you ask me, but that is neither here nor there).

But, the Yankees are not invincible. What seemed like a huge strength at the beginning of the 2009 season has now become a bit of a weakness.

At the beginning of the season, the Yankee rotation projected to be a collective group of established veterans and all-stars. CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, and Joba Chamberlain. Are you kidding me?! That sounds like a "murderers row" of pitching!

Unfornunately, this is no longer the case.

After some shaky starts (shaky is an understatement) and a minor league stint, Wang was finally put on the shelf, receiving shoulder surgery in late July. He is now out for the season, ending up with a 1-6 record and a 9.64 ERA.

With Wang out, the rotation still appeared strong. Prized prospect Phil Hughes was called up to fill in the fifth spot of the rotation and, for the most part, did a servicable job going 3-2 with a 5.45 ERA in seven starts. However, he has since been moved to the bullpen in order to cut down on his innings total for the year and protect his right arm.

Since Hughes's move, journeymen Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin have filled in the fifth spot for the most part. Both proved to be highly inconsistent.

A.J. Burnett has also proven to be a bit of an enigma. At some times, he has pitched like a Cy Young Award candidate. At others, he has pitched as if he is in way over his head. He stands at 11-9 with a 4.33 ERA. Not exactly what the Yankees had envisioned when they signed him to a five year contract worth over $80 million, but not terrible either.

The real concern with Burnett comes from his last nine starts. Since August 1st, Burnett is 1-5 with a 6.14 ERA.

And finally, the strategy devised by the Yankees to limit Joba Chamberlain's innings may have made Joba a complete mental case.

His last three starts have been good, giving up one run in his last start verus the Angels and two on both September 9th versus Tampa Bay and September 4th against the Toronto Blue Jays.

However, everything is relative. Because of the "Joba Rules", the starts lasted three, three, and four innings, respectively. In my opinion, this is not nearly enough to judge Joba on, especially since he still did not show any ability to get outs with a lesser amount of pitches.

So, looking at the playoffs, the Yankees are left with two reliable starting pitchers, with the rest appearing the be a bit of a crapshoot.

CC Sabathia currently has a 17-7 record with a 3.42 ERA. Pettitte stands at 13-6 with a 4.14. With the way things are going, these will be the starters for Games one and two in the ALDS.

Both are very solid choices, however Sabathia has even shown a tendancy to implode in the playoffs. In addition, let's not forget that Pettitte was originally penciled in as the fourth starter in the rotation and now is acting as a number two.

Perhaps this is thinking a little too much into it, but both facts could prove to be detrimental to New York.

In my opinion, the key truly is A.J. Burnett. If he can settle down, and pitch like everyone knows he is capable of, he can be slotted in as the number two pitcher during the ALDS, moving Pettitte, and his postseason-rich resume, back to what could be a pivotal game three.

However, if Burnett falters, so will the Yankees. With talk of Joba not even pitching in the first playoff series, the Yankees need A.J. to have his A-game by the time October rolls around.

Like defense in football, the old baseball cliche is that pitching wins championships. The Yankee offense can only bail out the latter end of the starting rotation so many times. While seeing walkoffs and games with scores the upwards of five runs is fun to watch, these things are often absent in the playoffs.

The previously struggling Daisuke Matsuzaka turned in a solid six innings for the Red Sox last night, giving up no runs and eventually earning the win.

At 6.5 games behind the New York (five in the loss column), it is doubtful that Boston will catch the Yankees in the division with so little regular season games remaining. But if Boston can throw Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Matsuzaka at you, along with ol' reliable Tim Wakefield in a playoff series, watch out.

While it may still be a little to early to start thinking about playoff matchups, the fact remains that the Yankee starting rotation had better get its act together if New York has any plans to bring home number 27 this year.