Here we go!

  1957-richard-04bobbyorr1 WAYNE GRETZKY620-5-stories-brown

No this isn’t a Bud Light ad…although a BL does sound mighty good right about now!  I’m sure most of you will be tipping back a few brews of that brand or another over the next 2 months watching playoff hockey.  And by a few, I mean plenty because let’s be honest about this…if you’re reading my stuff, you need to be pretty tipsy!  So now that you got your buzz on, allow me to break down how I see the 1st round of the playoffs playing out.

 

Eastern Conference

#1 Pittsburgh vs #8 NY Islanders

David vs Goliath, and David has both his arms and legs broken while Goliath just pulled out an AK 47!  I really hope the Islanders find a way to make this a great watch, and I’m sure the games will be wide open.  But there is simply no way….and I mean NO WAY the Islanders win this series.  If I’m the Pens and Sid isn’t 100%, I don’t worry about rushing him back for this.  Everyone else is ready to go, they don’t need Sid to win this series.  Tavares will do all he can to carry the Isles, but they don’t have the secondary scoring to prevent the Pens from doing everything they can to shutdown Tavares and Moulson, and they don’t have a good enough defensive team to shutdown the Pens offense.  Too deep, too talented, too experienced, too much for the Isles to handle.

Pens in 5

 

#2 Montreal vs #7 Ottawa

Man the Ottawa Senators simply don’t know how to make friends!  They’re the cops who break up a high school party.  Had they lost last night, Ottawa would have played Pittsburgh and the last time I checked Eugene Melnyk had not revealed the results of his investigation on Matt Cooke, and then of course we would have got Montreal vs Toronto.  Nobody likes you Ottawa!  Gary Bettman probably sounded like Vince McMahon yelling at Stone Cold “You ruined it!  You ruined it g*d d*amit!”  This is a nice consolation prize though and I do expect a real good series here.  The Habs have stumbled into the playoffs and how they’re the 2nd seed I don’t know!  Just speaks to how much weaker the East is then the West this season.  With Karlsson back, the Sens are a threat even without Spezza.  If they get Spezza back at some point they might be the biggest threat to the Pens in the East.  I think it will be a close series, good goaltending for both teams, solid bluelines for both teams, both teams can put the puck in the net, I just like the Sens a little better.

Sens in 6

 

#3 Washington vs #6 NY Rangers

4th time in 5 seasons these teams will hook up.  Man, if you ever want an example of why divisional series won’t be so great to go back to this could be exhibit A.  Does anyone view this as a rivalry?  I don’t.  So then 4 times in 5 seasons is just kind of annoying rather than fun.  This one I will say though should be really good to watch.  I seen someone (I believe it was John Shannon) talking last night about how this series would be a lot of 2-1 games.  No it won’t, because if he hasn’t noticed Dale Hunter isn’t behind the Caps bench anymore.  This Caps team is back to being a fun team to watch and if you like high flying hockey then you should be pulling for teams like the Caps to do well.  Last year, the playoffs were dominated by the most boring teams in the league.  It was 2003 all over again.  Unfortunately I have to call it the way I see it and while I think this one is going deep, the Rangers are the most dangerous lower seed in this years playoffs.  They have the ability to go to the final.  They’re peaking at the right time and that’s bad news for the Caps.

Rangers in 7

 

#4 Boston vs #5 Toronto

Everyone in Toronto is sick about getting the Bruins it seems.  I’m saying hold the phone on that one.  I talked about not knowing how the Habs ended up with the 2nd seed in the East, well the reason they got that seed is because Boston has been worse down the stretch than the Habs.  So the Leafs have a serious shot in this series.  It works for the Leafs that nobody expects them to win, it works that Boston is playing awful, it works that the Bruins have had trouble scoring this season.  So the Leafs have all that going for them and I think they match the Bruins depth, at least up front.  The key without a doubt is Reimer.  Every year it seems 1 goaltender comes out of nowhere to surprise in the playoffs.  Last year it was Holtby, the year before it was Crawford, in 2010 it was Halak, so you can expect someone to be that guy again this season and I just have a hunch that Reimer will be that guy.  If he is, the Leafs have a SERIOUS shot at winning this series.  I’m saying the Leafs make life miserable for the Bruins and it comes down to the wire, but having said ALL of this I just can’t go against the Bruins.

Bruins in 7

 

Western Conference

#1 Chicago vs #8 Minnesota

It’s a shame that the Wild have backed into the playoffs while the Jackets played so great down the stretch and came up short.  But, the points are the start of the season count just as much as the points at the end of it so here we are.  The Wild and their not wacked at all fan base….are in.  If they were playing like they did midseason, I would probably give them a shot in this series.  But Backstrom has been pretty bad in goal of late, the blueline is REALLY thin, and Mike Yeo is in way over his head as coach of this team.  I don’t know which Corey Crawford will show up for this series.  2011 Crawford could win the Hawks the Cup.  2012 Crawford could get the Hawks swept.  He has been solid all season so I doubt he’ll be as bad as he was last year (although in fairness, he wasn’t getting much work in those games vs Phoenix last year and any goaltender will tell you that is TOUGH).  I expect him to be solid.  Toews vs Koivu is something we will see all series.  I don’t know why either coach wouldn’t want that matchup.  But the Hawks are just simply deeper than the Wild are, and Quennville will out coach Yeo.

Hawks in 5

 

#2 Anaheim vs #7 Detroit

Well the Wings just barely kept their playoff streak alive.  Many thought this was going to be the year they failed to make it, I didn’t.  It was one of the few things I got right with my pre season predicitions!  So they’re in and they get probably the biggest surprise of the Western conference this season in the Anaheim Ducks.  I’m sorry, but I’m just not a big believer in this team.  I like them, and I like their size, love their 1st line, but I don’t like the depth and I hate the blueline.  Now the Wings aren’t without some big time holes on their team either.  I hate their blueline just as much if not more!  But they’re better 1-4 down the middle than the Ducks are, and while the Ducks have had great goaltending all season I don’t know that I trust them in the playoffs.  This is a very tough series to get a read on, but the one thing I know is I trust Mike Babcock behind the bench, I don’t trust Bruce Boudreau.  I expect Babcock to really school Boudreau behind the bench, and with the personal on both sides being pretty much even in my mind I believe the Wings are going to pull the minor upset here.

Wings in 6

 

#3 Vancouver vs #6 San Jose

Fans in Vacouver must be breathing a sigh of relief.  Had the 6th seed been the Blues, or even worse for them the Kings, it would have likely been another early exit for the Canucks.  But they avoid them 2 matchup nightmares and get the Canuck friendly San Jose Sharks.  I firmly believe the Sharks window has slammed shut despite making the playoffs again this season.  Just 17 regulation and overtime wins this season.  They lived off a lot of shoot out wins, and a lot of home wins (just 2 regulation loses at home).  They don’t have home ice in the playoffs and they don’t have the shoot out.  The Canucks strugged through this regular season but I think that will benefit them.  If Schneider is ready for game 1 they should win this series.  If its Luongo however….that situation took 48 games to blow up but it looked like it finally did Saturday night.  And you can’t sleep on Niemi, the guy has won a Cup and had a great season.  But the x factor for me in the series is that the Sharks don’t have anyone who can matchup down low with the twins.  This is 2 teams who were the elite of the West in 2011, and now are both desperate to make a run before time runs out.  As I said earlier, I believe the Sharks time already has.

Carburners in 7

 

#4 St. Louis vs #5 Los Angeles

I don’t expect this series to be anything exciting to watch.  It will be a battle of 2 Western Canadian coaches who both believe in having their big bodies wear down the oppositions big bodies.  Don’t take chances offensively, get the puck in deep, keep everything to the outside.  They’re extremely similar teams.  The Blues have a better blueline.  Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, Bouwmeester, Leopold, and Jackman is the best 1-5 in the league and I’m not sure anyone comes close.  But the Kings are better down the middle.  When you can run Jarret Stoll (PIMP!!!) out there as your 4th line center, you’re pretty good at center!  So the coaching is a wash, and the amazing blueline and the amazing centers cancel each other out.  The tipping point for me is the goaltending.  In one corner, you have the reigning Conn Smythe winner, and should he get hurt the Kings could then play their best goaltender.  In the other corner, you have the 3 headed monster known as Hallelliott.  I honestly don’t know as of writing this who the Blues are going with.  All 3 to me are serious candidates.  Halak has the best resume, Allen has been the best all year, and Elliott got hot down the stretch.  If you have 3 starting goaltenders, then you don’t have a starting goaltender.  It will be a lot tighter than last season, but I like the champs.

Kings in 7

 

So that’s how I see the 1st round going down, I’m sure it will be very wrong.  As for the final, I went against my best insincts and picked LA to repeat as West champs.  I didn’t care all season that this team had 4 extra months off this season to rest up, teams just simply never go back after they’ve won.  But they’re the perfect playoff team and they’re completely healthy right now so I just can’t go against them.  In the East, I got the Pens but I would seriously watch out for the Rangers.  They’re in a position to sneak up on some teams in a weaker Eastern conference.  So it’s the same picks to go to the final that I had last season.

As for the Cup champ….much like 2009, the Pens are going to spoil a repeat for the champs and take it in a very tight 7 games.

 

Follow me on twitter where I will annoy you with OT goal picks for the next 2 months @TJ_Soups

Humiliating

 

I wrote back in early March a piece called “Deep Ice Horizon”, and it was stupid of me.  Not because after that the Oilers jumped back in the race, but more so because I should have saved the title for when this obviously was going to happen.  I don’t know 1 Oiler fan who didn’t call this at one point or another.  And while Mac T did do a good job at the press conference this morning, Kevin Lowe just proved why he is the problem with this franchise and needs to go.

I didn’t form this opinion during the presser.  I’ve had this opinion for quite a while now.  But I REALLY developed this opinion over the last few years.  It got stronger this morning with the news that Steve Tambellini was being replaced by Craig MacTavish.  Yet ANOTHER Oiler retread.  And again, Mac T did a good job in the presser.  I said quite often back in the day that Mac would likely be a pretty good GM.

But it still is a case of Lowe just hiring another one of his buddies, rather than looking for who might be the best guy for the job.  Scott Howson is now the VP of Hockey Operations which is the job Mac T leaves behind.  What that job is, I’m really not sure!  But apparently it is a job, and it’s filled by ANOTHER one of Kevin Lowe’s buddies rather than looking for the best candidate.

It’s just like Entourage.  A group of guys, hanging out together, having a good time.  At first it’s a cool show and you wish you were in that group, and then after you see it play out you desperately want it cancelled because its just getting worse and worse and worse!

And if it wasn’t bad enough going into the press conference, it got A LOT worse during the press conference.  The best was when John MacKinnon of the Edmonton Journal asked (and I’m paraphrasing here): “why should the fans have any faith in this group since its basically the same group that has led them nowhere?”  Kevin Lowe tweaked, brought up how he had 6 Stanley Cup rings (5 of those were over 20 years ago, none of them were as a GM) and also brought up how that group put together a team that made 1 miracle run 7 years ago.  And at no point did he take ANY ownership of the shit show that has gone on in Edmonton.

Now, Oilers fans get accused a lot of living in the past.  I don’t think we (yes, I have to include myself) do that.  Just because the Oilers have a rich history doesn’t mean the fans should be ashamed of that.  However, Kevin Lowe CLEARLY does this.  He has become the joke of the NHL.  Bruce Arthur was absolutely killing him on twitter during the press conference, and rightfully so.  Down Goes Brown (Sean McIndoe) had a piece mocking Lowe’s incompetence right after the presser was completed which is a must read http://www.downgoesbrown.com/2013/04/oilersgmkevinloweinterviews.html

This organization has gone down the right road.  They desperately needed to rebuild, acknowledged that and have done it the right way.  And there was no doubt that Tambellini, while he had made some solid moves, needed to go.  He was much too slow at addressing the problems on the hockey team and in my opinion lacked the balls to make a big move.  And as I’ve said a couple times now, Mac T came out swinging and if he was telling the truth then the Oilers just may have a solid GM on their hands.

But even if MacTavish does a good job, nobody is denying at this point that Kevin Lowe needs to be fired.  He has taken this organization nowhere.  He only wants to hire his buddies.  He has no accountability and that has a trickle down effect that is very evident on the ice.  The fact that Darryl Katz hasn’t recognized this and canned him yet is beyond ridiculous.  He was a great Oiler, but he needs to go yesterday and until he is gone I just can’t see this team getting back to being one of the elite franchises in the NHL.  I PRAY I’m wrong about that…

 

Follow me on twitter where I bitch about the Oilers constantly @TJ_Soups

One deal that won’t get made: Ego for perspective

 

Another trade deadline has come and gone and NHL fans are growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of movement at the deadline now for 4 seasons.  I think we may as well get used to it.  So many things these days hinder trades.  The amount of players signed to ridiculously long term deals the last 5 seasons, the cap, NTC’s.  But most of all I believe its the GM’s these days and how most of them have too big of an ego to make a deal they SHOULD make.

Luongo on the bench
Luongo has handled a difficult situation with nothing but class

I’ll start with the obvious and that’s Mike Gillis in Vancouver.  MAYBE the biggest ego out of all the GM’s now that Brian Burke is without a job.  He sat on Luongo, and sat and sat and sat….and sat and sat and sat and sat….he stood up, stretched, scratched some private area’s, then sat and sat and sat and then the deadline came today.

It’s reported that he turned down Kadri, Reimer and a 2nd round pick from the Leafs prior to the season.  That price reportedly dropped and yet he still didn’t get a deal done.  Darren Dreger just said on twitter that today they wanted Ben Scrivens and “multiple picks” from the Leafs.  MULTIPLE picks?!  Mike, you’ll be lucky to get a pick this summer!

He had a guy with an albatross of a contract, not much of a market, and he will HAVE to move him this summer as with him the Canucks have over 63 million tied up in only 14 players for next season.  The cap is going to be 64.3 mil.  Who is going to give you ANYTHING for him in the summer Mike?  All the GM’s know they have to basically give him away or else Gillis will have to really swallow his pride and talk to ownership about buying him out.

Ryan Miller will likely be moved (just 1 year left on his deal), Jonathan Bernier could be moved, Michal Neuvirth could be dealt, maybe the Blues move Jaroslav Halak with Jake Allen emerging, Mike Smith is a UFA, Bryzgalov will probably be a UFA (if he’s bought out).  ALL these guys are likely as good of an option if not better than Luongo(when you factor in the contract).  Gillis just seems completely blind to the fact that the value of this asset is fading drastically.  I’m amazed he was even going to get anything for him in the first place.

As we all now know Jay Feaster and Flames management let their ego’s get in the way for the last 2 years and it’s killed them.  The rumor in December of 2010 was that the Flames (who were struggling badly at the time and had missed the playoffs the previous season) were offered Brayden Schenn, Jonathan Bernier and a 1st round pick from the LA Kings for Iginla.  They ended up with a 1st round pick because lets be honest the prospects they got are nothing (neither were in the Pens top 10 prospect list).  2 cornerstones and a 1st round pick (which who knows what that pick would have ended up as but the Oilers eventually got it and it became Klefbom).

They should have dealt Kipper this summer when his NTC was up.  Toronto needed a goaltender and likely would have gave something great back!  But again the Flames management (weather it was Feaster or ownership) didn’t want to listen to people telling them they needed to know better.  Everyone else was being ridiculous, the Flames knew better.  Well, no you didn’t!  Bob Stauffer said it best.  The Flames were that guy who is going bald and were trying to do everything they could to mask the inevitable.  Just get it over with and shave it all off!  As I said last week, all this was too little, too late for the Flames.

san-jose
Thornton and Marleau could be next seasons Iginla and Kiprusoff

Doug Wilson despite having a great trade deadline in San Jose (where he essentially got the same guys back that he dealt for cheaper) is likely going to do the same thing in San Jose.  The talk started after last season that the Sharks needed to blow it up, yet they just continued to add bit pieces in hopes of turning back the clock.

Had they started to rebuild last summer, not only would they have got a lot for their guys (Thornton in particular) and still have guys to build around like Logan Couture.  Although it is possible that Wilson only watches TSN where we know they don’t give poor Logan as much love as he deserves….

Joe Nieuwendyk finally wised up after 2 blown deadlines the previous 2 seasons and cleaned house.  2 years ago he had to hang onto Brad Richards for their big playoff run…that didn’t happen.  Nieuwendyk was fully aware that Richards was going to leave for nothing yet no trade offer was good enough for him.

A lot of GM’s in hockey have tried to take what they could from the way Billy Beane operates the Oakland A’s.  Yet the one thing that seemingly none of them take from him is the fact that he stays as far away from his team as he possibly can.  He doesn’t let emotion over take him when trying to improve his team.  I don’t know of any NHL GM that does this.

Most of them are set in their ways and they simply won’t change.  If you make a mistake you need to own it and move on.  Steve Yzerman could have had Ben Bishop last season for only a 2nd round pick, today he paid more than that.  He didn’t let his ego stand in the way of making his hockey team better.  But most can’t do this, they just delay the inevitable which will likely make their team worse and they still look bad.

 

Follow me on twitter and see why I’m smarter than all GM’s @TJ_Soups

MLB season preview – Predictions

 

Now that you have OBVIOUSLY read through all 6 of the divisional analysis (or BS) that I wrote, it is prediction time.  I might be a big homer here, then again I might not be.  I have no idea what I’m predicting as of typing this so I’ll be as shocked as you are at what horrendous picks I make.  So without furthur adieu….

 

AL wildcard teams:

Toronto Blue Jays – Of COURSE I’m taking the Jays to get a wildcard spot.  Full disclosure, the closer we get to the season, the more I’m thinking they win the division, but I’ll stick with the Rays.  The Jays are getting in and they’ll host the wildcard game.  And they’ll play the…

Texas Rangers – 2nd straight year for the Rangers in the wildcard game, they would be the first team in the history of baseball to play in back to back wildcard games….this would be a tough matchup for my Jays, but as long as the staffs aren’t destroyed due to injuries I like the Jays top end guys over the Rangers in a big game.

 

ALDS:

Detroit over Toronto – I so badly want to pick the Jays to win it all, but I can’t and the reason I can’t is because there are 2 teams in the American League who will likely stand in their way.  The Tigers are one of those teams.  I think this would be a great series, but the Tigers would take them in 5.

LA Angels over Tampa Bay – After game 1 of this series it would be pitching vs hitting.  Normally I go with the pitching any day of the week, but that Angels lineup is so lethal and I also think it would be stupid to think the Angels wouldn’t add to their team come the trade deadline.

 

ALCS:

Detroit over LA Angels – A heavyweight fight between 2 big spending franchises.  Prince/Miggy vs Trout/Pujols/Hamilton.  Weaver vs Verlander.  It would be a great matchup if both teams stay healthy (always the key).  At the end of the day however, I like the Tigers pitching better and they will win their 2nd straight ALCS.

 

 

NL wildcard teams:

LA Dodgers – All that money has to win them SOMETHING doesn’t it?!  But all that money did buy them a pretty good team, they’ll just need a little time to gel.  Once they do they’ll be one heck of a good team!

Cincinnati Reds – I had a tough time picking between the Reds and the Pillies to be honest, but while I think the Phillies bounce back with a good season I just think the Reds have too much talent to miss the playoffs.  I do feel like the Reds are a team who are built for the postseason.  They were my pick to win the NL last season and it just may have happened had it not been for a Scott Rolen error.

 

NLDS:

Cincinnati over Washington – The way I’m looking at this is we have 2 teams who will have the feeling of letting one get away.  This SHOULD have been the NLCS matchup last year.  But the Reds will have less baggage than the Nats.  Maybe I’m nuts but I could see that decision to shut down Strasburg last year haunting the Nats for a while.  They had a team ready to win and they didn’t take advantage of it.

San Francisco over St. Louis – As much as you can’t kill the Cards, you can’t kill the Giants either.  Now have won 6 straight series and were 6-0 when facing elimination in last year’s playoffs.  The one thing I would hope for however is a better series.  That NLCS may have been the worst series I’ve ever seen go 7 games.  How does a series go 7 games when just about every game is a blowout?!

 

NLCS:

San Francisco over Cincinnati – The Reds will have a shot at redemption.  Their NLDS series last fall was awesome so if these 2 get together again expect more of the same.  The Giants just have a little more experience.  They get the hits when they need them and their staff is just a little better than Cincy’s, even though I have said the Reds staff is built for the postseason.

 

World Series:

San Francisco over Detroit – In a rematch of what was a terrible World Series, the Tigers will take on the Giants.  Like in most rematches of blowouts, the Tigers will be better prepared for this one.  HOWEVER, while I’m impartial on the Giants I respect the hell out of what they’ve built.  They’re a Buster Posey broken leg away from possibly being the 3 time defending champs.  I like them to win their 3rd in 4 years.

 

 

American League MVP: Albert Pujols – Everyone has fallen in love with Mike Trout, and rightfully so.  But Pujols productivity really picked up by the end of May and I just believe with that much protection in the lineup for him he will have another monster year.

 

National League MVP: Bryce Harper – This kids talent is just incredible.  This might be too soon in his career to make this projection but I just really believe that he will really bust out.  The kid has unreal drive to go with his talent and it also doesn’t hurt either of these guys that they could be leading teams that are almost locks to go to the postseason.

 

American League Cy Young: Justin Verlander – Not going to try to get cute with this pick.  The guy is flat out the best pitcher in the game right now and I don’t think anyone is even close.  Maybe I’m a homer but if I were to pick a bit of a dark horse here it would be Josh Johnson.

 

National League Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg – However if someone was to over take Verlander as the games best pitcher its this guy.  Strasburg has amazing stuff and knows how to pitch at such a young age.  He will actually get to pitch in September this season too!

 

American League Rookie of the year: Chris Archer – There are better prospects coming but you likely won’t see guys like Profar, Myers or Bundy until June.  Archer has great stuff and apparently an even better work ethic.

 

National Leauge Rookie of the year: Shelby Miller – Going with 2 pitchers is tough not to do seeing how the game has been dominated by pitching since it got cleaned up.  Miller is a higher ranked prospect than Archer and again with both guys it won’t hurt that they’ll be throwing for top end teams.

 

American League Manager of the year: Ron Gardenhire – Ok, the guys who win these awards are always the managers of teams that flat out shock everyone, and I have nobody pegged to really shock the world.  So I guess I’m picking 2 teams here who could stun everyone but of course it goes against my picks.  Terry Ryan is a great GM so having him back could really influence this team even quicker than many expect.

 

National League Manager of the year: Kirk Gibson – The D-backs have some really good young talent both on the team and on the way.  This wouldn’t be near the stretch that the Twins are to bounce back but I believe it would still be a pretty big stunner if the D-backs grabbed a wildcard spot and even bigger stunner if they won the division.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups

MLB season preview – NL West

 

This is a 2 team race.  The Giants have built it right, and the Dodgers have spent like drunken sailors trying to catch up (although if you signed an 8 billion dollar TV deal wouldn’t you?!)  But the other 3 teams don’t have the coin to spend with the Dodgers and aren’t yet near being built like the Giants are.  I would love to hype this up and make it sound like it will be more exciting than this, but I really don’t see it.

 

sf1. San Francisco Giants – The champs are here!  2 times in 3 seasons and this is now officially the model franchise in the Majors.  They walk around with cans of arrogance, spraying it everywhere.  They wear pink tights with blue jackets that have giant pins on them that say “Yes, I am a model”.  Yet for some reason they don’t get the respect that other 2 time champs have.  That pitching staff is just filthy.  If Lincecum can get his velocity back (which I honestly doubt), or learn to become an effective pitcher throwing 91-92 MPH, this staff will go from one of the best to scary.  If spring training is any indication, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.  Then the bullpen is almost as scary as the starters.  Sergio Romo was untouchable in the playoffs last season and he has the perfect demanor to be an elite closer.  And while the offense isn’t great it will improve as guys like Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford get more experience.  Nobody in this lineup will panic in a big spot, and most of the time they deliver on cue.  Then of course the reigning MVP doesn’t suck either.  Buster Posey is Mr. Everything to this team, and that was pretty obvious when you seen the difference between the 2011 Giants and the 2012 Giants.  Had he not been injured in 2011, this franchise might be entering this season as the 3 time defending champs.  On top of all that they have one of the best managers in the game in Bruce Bochy.  Its just simply the best run franchise in MLB.

 

efvfv5b5g1zgpsf56gb04lthx2. LA Dodgers – All that spending and I only got them 2nd in the division.  I’m now scared for my life because the fans at Dodger stadium are HARDCORE!  I’ve been to Yankee stadium, it’s mellow compared to the fans that frequent Chavez Ravine.  It was 50/50 if I was going to walk out of there or leave in a body bag.  Had I been rockin’ Yanks gear that day, I don’t think I would be writing this.  Also I was lucky to avoid the bullet that Robinson Cano sent into our seats that day, the 10 year old kid sitting beside us took that one for the team!  Anyhow, the Dodgers.  I have a tough time believing they won’t get in the playoffs.  The pitching is damn good and I’m expecting Josh Beckett to come on a bit this season now that he’s out of the spotlight in Boston.  Same goes for Carl Crawford, as long as he’s healthy he will likely have a pretty big chip on his shoulder and get back at least to being somewhat the player he was.  If he can then this lineup will be lethal!  Matt Kemp is one of the best players in baseball, Adrian Gonzalez can mash, and once he gets back Hanley Ramirez is amazing….when he feels like playing.  So they have the potential to be the best lineup in baseball.  The staff, if Beckett does what I’m expecting, could be the best in baseball as well.  Zack Grienke added to Clayton Kershaw is scary stuff by itself.  The bullpen is solid but they don’t have a proven closer and that of course is always a big concern for a team.  All the potential is there for this team to be great, but still too many question marks for me to put them ahead of the Giants in the division.  I think they’ll need time to mesh.

 

ari3. Arizona Diamondbacks – This team doesn’t get any headlines being in the same division as the Giants and Dodgers, but you can’t sleep on the D-backs.  This is a well run organization with a lot of really good young talent.  I think the lineup will miss the threat of Justin Upton.  He had a down year last year but he was still the biggest threat in their lineup.  They have some nice bats like Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill, and Jason Kubel, but nobody with the talent that Upton had.  Little Adam Eaton will miss the first 2 months with a sprained elbow but by the all-star break he should be their full time CF and leadoff man.  He is good on the base paths, and in the minors had a .456 OBP so he can get on base.  A limited guy who gives you a maximum effort every day.  Scouts are very excited about how this pitching staff will look going forward.  Trevor Cahill is the key in my opinion.  If he can get back to the level he was pitching at for Oakland when he went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA then this staff will have it’s ace they can lean on.  Ian Kennedy comes into the season as their number 1, and Kennedy is nice but he’s not an ace.  So they need someone to emerge weather it’s Cahill, Kennedy, or someone else.  The bullpen is very good.  Putz is great when he’s healthy, Heath Bell struggled in Miami but he’s fine in a setup role, and David Hernandez is pretty filthy.  Lefties Tony Sipp and Matt Reynolds aren’t scaring anyone but as long as manager Kirk Gibson uses them right they’ll be fine.  This is the one team in the division that is sneaky good.  Remember they’re only a year removed from being NL West champs.

 

col4. Colorado Rockies – It doesn’t feel that long ago that the Rocks were the best young team in the game.  They had that amazing run to the World Series, of course only to get flat out curb stomped by the Red Sox.  But they then came back with a great 2009 season and made the playoffs and seemed to be trending way up.  But fast forward to 2013 and it feels like the late 90’s/early 2000’s all over again where they have an awesome lineup but simply cannot pitch.  Jhoulys Chacin will be their opening day starter and he has pretty good stuff but he doesn’t know how to pitch yet and certainly isn’t a guy who should be leading a staff.  And after Chacin you really can’t say many nice things about the rotation.  A lot of lefties….don’t know if they’re really crafty….everyone wants a crafty lefty, you can’t just be a lefty.  Then you’re just weird and people don’t like you.  The bullpen is a bit better, Rafael Betancourt is a solid closer.  He along with Rex Brothers and Matt Belisle make the Rocks pretty safe with a lead past the 7th inning.  But I think its safe to say that this lineup will have to score them a ton of runs, and despite that being a pretty tall order they are capable of doing just that.  They need to stay healthy of course, but when they are Troy Tulowitzki is an MVP candidate, Carlos Gonzalez is one of the best bats in the game, Wilin Rosario is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, but I don’t like the lack of speed.  Sure Dexter Fowler can fly, but he can’t steal bags.  Gonzo led the team with 20 last season.  They’ll need to address that if they want to get in the hunt in this division.  I doubt they are in the hunt though.  I really like some of the guys on this team, but just too many flaws to finish above 3rd.

 

ebjtzdtqw33dahm7k8zojhe455. San Diego Padres – This is a pretty well run franchise, but the new ownership has yet to give management the money (even a little bit) to compete with the big dogs in this division.  They have finally changed brought in the fences like ownership finally did in Seattle (both parks were tough to hit in during the steroid era let along now!)  So we will see what kind of effect that has on the team, but personally I think in the short term it will hurt the Padres more than it will help.  They don’t have much power in their lineup to take advantage of a little more hitter friendly park.  Chase Headley does, Carlos Quentin does when he feels like it, but the lineup in general isn’t going to intimidate anyone.  I like rookie 2B Jedd Gyorko.  As of writing this it looked as though Gyorko was going to start the season as the Padres 2B and all this kid does is hit.  While I don’t think the new dimensions will help out the lineup much, I think it could hurt this staff.  There are some decent arms on this staff, but its far from anything special.  Andrew Cashner has the best stuff, but he apparently is starting the season in the bullpen due to an offseason injury to his thumb.  That bullpen is very solid though, easily the strength of this club coming into the season.  Huston Street had a great season and has been a solid closer for a long time now, Luke Gregerson is one of the best setup men in the game, and Joe Thatcher is a very effective lefty for them.  Bud Black has done a good job there with the limited talent he has had, but to get this team to finish higher than 4th would be a shock to me.

 

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MLB season preview – NL Central

 

Finally this division is down to 5 teams.  Does it not speak to how much of a mess MLB is when one division has had 6 teams and another had 4?  It really took you guys THIS long to figure out that perhaps all the divisions should have 5 teams?!  Wow.  Anyway, the Cards and Reds are the class of this division, but the Brewers have been pretty competitive for the last 6 years or so, the Pirates finally have gained some traction the last 2 seasons, and the Cubs are in good hands with Theo Epstein running the show.  Won’t be long until this division is among the best in baseball.

 

stl1. St. Louis Cardinals – The Giants finally were able to kill them.  I’ll never forget throughout the 5th game between the Cards and Nats last year I kept texting my buddy saying “you can’t kill these guys”.  Even when it was 6-0, I probably wasn’t the only person saying “they’re not dead, they’re never dead”.  Sure enough, they came back.  This team just knows how to win.  Sure they ran out of gas and into hot pitching against the Giants, but that seems to be the exception to the rule with this team.  They just know how to win.  Yadier Molina has become one of the elite catchers in all of baseball.  In fact he might be the 2nd best catcher in the game behind Buster Posey.  This is his team but he has some nice help at the plate with Matt Holliday, David Freese, Carlos Beltran and Allen Craig.  Its a damn good lineup and they also have 20 year old Oscar Taveras in the system who isn’t far away.  Baseball America has him ranked 3rd on their top 100 prospects list.  RHP Shelby Miller is ranked 6th so in addition to this team being damn good they have those great building blocks.  Miller is expected to step into the 5th spot in the rotation this season with Chris Carpenter done for not only the season but likely his career.  Adam Wainwright though is their horse.  I don’t believe an 18-7 season is possible for Lance Lynn to repeat.  I really like Jason Motte in the closer role.  He doesn’t have the best stuff in the league, but he loves to go out and battle.  Trevor Rosenthal looks to be a kid who will take over that role from Motte one day, he can hit triple digits.  This organization is right up there with the Giants as one of the best run organizations in baseball.  Year in, year out, they’re in the hunt.

 

cin2. Cincinnati Reds – Brutal end to an awesome season for the Reds.  2nd best record in the NL, got up 2-0 in the NLDS vs the Giants on the road, game 3 went to extra innings and they may have won had it not been for a very rare Scott Rolen error.  I’m sure that question must linger with the Reds players as to “what could have been?”  I have a feeling something like that might be tough for this team to get over.  I like that they opted to put Aroldis Chapman back in the closers role.  It just didn’t feel like the right time to move him into the rotation.  That will happen, but their staff looks really good right now and I don’t know that Jonathan Broxton could be trusted in a closing role anymore.  Sean Marshall has become a very effective LH setup man after bouncing around for a few years as a starter.  I’m a big fan of their rotation but I don’t expect great regular season numbers.  Power arms though win come playoff time.  Johnny Cueto has really learned how to pitch.  Only 170 K’s last year in 217 IP, that wasn’t imaginable when Cueto first came into the league.  The lineup has a lot of power, although I don’t know that Joey Votto will supply much of that power.  He wasn’t the same guy last season after returning from his shoulder injury, but even if he can’t he is still among the best hitters in the NL.  Ryan Ludwick can’t be relied on to have another season like 2012.  Getting Shin-Soo Choo was a very solid move, he is a perfect table setter for this lineup.  I know the talent is here, but I just like the Cards a little better to win the division.  Make no mistake though they’ll be in both the division and wildcard hunts.

 

pit3. Pittsburgh Pirates – One of these years it’s going to pop for the PiratesIt just has to.  1992 was a long time ago, and it hasn’t just been a few dark years for the Pirates, it’s been a few dark decades!  The last 2 years have started out very promising, but in the 2nd half they’ve collapsed so we will see if perhaps this season they can keep it going for 162 games.  Andrew McCutchen might be the best player in the NL right now.  He is such a complete player and from everything you hear and read about him a great teammate too.  The rest of the lineup isn’t spectacular, but they have a very solid offense with guys like Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Garret Jones.  I really like bringing in catcher/wanna be SS Russell Martin.  Of course that average is a concern, but he still had 21 bombs and has a lot of experience which will serve a young team like this well.  Starling Marte has HUGE upside.  It might be too early to expect a breakout season from him, but it shouldn’t be long before he puts it all together.  The rotation is led by Soups on Sports fashion correspondent Dustin L. Harvie favortie A.J. Burnett.  Big question there is weather or not he can repeat last season.  Wandy Rodriguez has pretty good stuff and is a solid number 2, but after that it’s sketchy.  2011 1st overall pick Gerrit Cole can’t get there fast enough.  The bullpen lost Joel Hanrahan, so Jason Grilli will take over as the teams closer.  It is nothing special, but they do have a lot of lefties to turn to so Clint Hurdle should be able to prove his worth as a manager.  I don’t think this team is ready to contend just yet, but they’re getting there.

 

m4r0bevve0valis6ggnyyytak4. Milwaukee Brewers – First of all, I’m rolling with the Brew crew’s old symbol because we all know it’s better.  Why do they keep trying to jam the wheat down our throats?!  This is one of the best symbol’s in sports, use it!!!  Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I will try to talk about the team.  Management has done a real nice job with this team over the last 5 years.  They don’t have much money to play with, but they have remained pretty competitive.  Last year they finished 4 games over .500 and were in the hunt.  Of course it all starts with Ryan Braun.  He is the catalyst for this team.  Once Corey Hart comes back (mid May from what I’ve read) the middle of this lineup looks great with those 2 and Aramis Ramirez.  Rickie Weeks has pretty good power too, but he needs to get that average up 20-30 points (.230 last season).  Mat Gamel is back this season, and he could also add a lot to the middle of that lineup but more likely needs to get his game back.  I really like Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation, he has dirty stuff.  I liked the Kyle Lohse signing.  That rotation is suspect after Gallardo, and even though I’m not a big Lohse guy they needed another guy who was at least capable of giving them a big game.  The bullpen was pretty bad last year, worst in the NL to be exact.  Tom Gorzelanny is a very effective lefty who will help but they’ll really need John Axford to bounce back after a terrible season.  They have to be worried that he could be a 1 hit wonder.  Solid organization, solid team on the field, but too many holes to compete with the Cards and Reds.

 

chc5. Chicago Cubs – Man its cool when the Cubs are good.  I loved the Bartman Cubs of 2003, and I’m sure I would have loved the 08 Cubs as well…I should clarify I mean the 1908 Cubs, not the 2008 Cubs although the 2008 Cubs did make the playoffs!  Swept, but still they made it and you can’t say that for many Cubs teams in the last 100+ years!  As I said at the top they’re brutal right now but they have the right guy running the show.  Anthony Rizzo from Italy (at least according to the WBC he is) and Starlin Castro are both going to be stars at least in my opinion.  Brett Jackson has a ton of upside, but at this point in his career that’s all it is.  This lineup could really use some more veterans to support the kids, Alfonso Soriano just isn’t enough and he will likely be dealt the first time they get the chance.  The pitching staff is actually decent and capable of keeping them in games.  The bottom of the rotation is solid but the top is where the issue is.  Matt Garza is out until at least May, but even when he returns you don’t know what he’ll do.  He can throw an absolute gem and look like a Cy Young candidate one game, then a 5th starter the next.  Jeff Samardzija has surprised and looks as though he is capable of being a nice number 3 guy.  It seemed like career suicide when he picked baseball over football (probably would have been a 1st round pick as a WR), but he’s proved a lot of people wrong.  The bullpen is in rough shape.  Carlos Marmol much like Soriano will be moved sooner rather than later.  Kyuji Fujikawa was brought over on a 2 year deal with the idea of eventually giving him the closers role.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups

MLB season preview – NL East

 

The NL East was a joke for a long time.  The Marlins would rise up every 5 or 6 years and become a force but for the most part they were the joke that they are today.  The Mets have had a few good seasons in the last 15 years, but for the most part they’ve been terrible.  Of course forever it was Atlanta dominating a terrible division, and then the Phillies stepped up with 5 straight division titles.  But now it’s the Nats on top and it’s not the joke it once was, although the Marlins are doing their best trying to keep that tradition alive.

 

rcehah9k0kekjkgzm077fflws1. Washington Nationals – If only they had let Stephen Strasburg pitch in the postseason, had they not blown a 6-0 lead in game 5, had Drew Storen not blown a 2 run lead with 2 out’s and 2 strikes in the bottom of the 9th….yes, if only.  But they have a great chance for redemption this season, and they’re loaded!  The sky is the limit for Strasburg.  This kid is living up to the hype.  If they let him actually go this season he will easily get 200 K’s (had 197 last year in just 159.1 IP) and I think 20 wins should be a lock with this offense.  But this staff is far from just Strasburg.  Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and now the addition of Dan Haren makes it one of the best rotations in all of baseball.  And they’ll get run support.  I might be in the minority on this, but I believe Bryce Harper has a bigger year this season than Mike Trout.  Both are unreal, but I really believe Harper has that crazy competitivness streak and will work his ass off to become the better player.  Like Strasburg the sky is the limit for Harper and he is living up to the hype too.  Adding Denard Span in CF should also help Harper, he’ll be a lot more comfortable in left.  Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche, its not as scary good as the pitching staff, but not far off!  The big question of course will be the bullpen and how will Drew Storen bounce back from that nightmare that cost his team advancing to the NLCS?  Tyler Clippard had 32 saves last season while Storen was down so if he can’t bounce back, Clippard can do the job.  They’re simply loaded.  Going to be awfully tough to knock them off the top of the division.

 

phi2. Philadelphia Phillies – This predicition may surprise some people, but it surprises me how many people all of a sudden want to write off the Phills.  Much like I wrote about the Texas Rangers, this is more about what they still have.  This prediction was made prior to spring training so I will start this by saying I do admit Roy Halladay’s major struggles are a big concern.  Mitch Williams has said Halladay’s velocity has never been above 91-92 MPH since going to Philadelphia, and he also said its not uncommon for pitchers to get a dead arm during spring training.  Doc is the type of guy who will still figure out a way to get hitters out no matter how bad his velocity is, but I would bet weather he goes this week or takes a stint on the DL to start the season, when he takes the mound he will be back up to at least 90 on the gun.  He only has to be the number 3 guy on this staff with Hammels and Lee there.  The pen is much improved with Mike Adams now being the setup guy for Jonathan Papelbon.  The rest of the pen isn’t great but the backend is always the key, you can go out and find the anything else you need, plus they’ll take pressure off the other guys.  The lineup isn’t what it was in 08 and 09, but I wouldn’t write them off like many people are.  If they can stay healthy, they’ll be one of the best lineup’s in baseball.  Of course that’s a big IF.  This might be a really stupid pick over the Braves for 2nd in the division, but they came on strong in the 2nd half last season and I just think if they stay healthy they have too much talent not to be in the race.

 

atl3. Atlanta Braves – Most if not all experts love the Braves to finish 2nd in the division.  I fully admit some of having the Phills ahead of the Braves is “everyone going 1 way so I’ll go the other”.  I don’t deny for a second how much talent the Braves have on their ball club.  But I have other reasons I’m not a big believer in the Braves for 2013.  This might be the only team in the majors in which I want to start talking about their bullpen.  Craig Kimbrel is one of the league’s top closers, just lights out last season.  Jonny Venters would close for most teams.  Then they added Jordan Walden by deal the Angels Tommy Hunter.  Eric O’Flaherty is one of the best LH relievers in baseball and he might be the 4th guy in that pen, it’s just ridiculously good.  Best in the bigs by a mile.  But while I love their pen, I really dislike their rotation.  I would be shocked if Kris Medlen gave them another season like he did last year.  A 1.57 ERA ain’t happening again.  And after him they have Tim Hudson who had a solid year but is getting on in years.  After Hudson they’re very thin.  I like the new look outfield with the Upton boys.  They’ll cover some ground between them and Jason Heyward.  But both Upton brothers are overrated.  Great talent, but just overrated.  That will happen when guys get picked high in the draft (Justin was 1st overall in 05).  Nobody in this lineup stands out as a big bat, but it’s very solid 2-6.  I think they’ll really miss Chipper Jones a lot more than some think.  He was such a great leader and icon for this franchise.  The kids in that clubhouse will really notice he is gone.  While I have them finishing 3rd in the division make no mistake they’ll be in the hunt for a wildcard spot again.  I just think the Phillies bounce back.

 

m01gfgeorgvbfw15fy04alujm4. NY Mets – The Mets may as well setup shop in 4th place for the next 2 or 3 seasons because its going to be pretty difficult for them to go any higher….or lower with the way the Marlins are run!  There just isn’t much about this team to like let alone love.  They seem to be waiting for Zack Wheeler to emerge.  Wheeler and Matt Harvey should give them a great 1-2 at the top of their rotation in another year or two.  Jon Niese is a solid guy but nothing special, I like the Shaun Marcum signing but he’s just a number 3, and now Johan Santana has another torn rotator cuff and his career is likely over (his career as a Met is over for sure).  The bullpen might be worse than the rotation.  Last season they went with Frank Francisco as their closer and of course he failed in that role just as he’s failed in that role throughout his career.  Bobby Parnell will get a look as their guy, he does have good stuff.  David Wright will have a lot of pressure on him with his new deal to carry this franchise.  I’m a big David Wright fan, but that’s an extremely tall order for anyone.  They’re simply awful behind the plate, John Buck can’t hit at all.  He’s solid defensively, but you need at least a LITTLE offense from that spot.  Travis d’Arnaud can’t get to the bigs fast enough, and since he was the key piece in the R.A. Dickey deal he will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders when he does make it (likely by June).  Ike Davis has a big bat, but he needs to get his average up to at least .240 to be anything threatening for opposing pitchers.  Things don’t look great for the Mets, but at least for Mets fans….they aren’t the Marlins!

 

y6oklqzigo1ver57oxlt60ee05. Miami Marlins – Ah here we are, my favorite team in the division!  What a joke of an organization.  As a Jays fan I’m extremely greatful that they are such a joke, but hard not to feel for the few Marlin fans that are actually out there.  Scott Stapp, huge Marlins fan.  For Stapp first he lost Creed, and now he’s lost Buehrle, Johnson, Reyes, and Bonifacio.  Maybe that was HIS sacrifice?  HEY-O!!!  Ok, enough “Tom-foolery”, lets talk Marlins ball!  They suck.  We may as well get #freeGiancarlo trending on twitter if it hasn’t been already.  This kid wants out and for damn good reason.  I hear some scouts and other baseball people talk about how the trade with the Jays, and before that the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, were good baseball deals.  Yeah they got some talent back and drastically shed payroll.  But owner Jeffrey Loria screwed the city of Miami and the Marlins fans (like Stapp).  This guy is total scum.  He screwed over Montreal and now he’s screwing over Miami.  Ok I’m getting off topic again but it’s just so difficult to talk about this team on the field when they’re such a disgrace of an organization.  I’ll just try to wrap this up, it’s way off the rails.  Henderson Alvarez has absolutely filthy stuff but needs to learn how to pitch.  Prospect Jose Fernandez is on the way and he absolutely tore apart Class A ball last year.  Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison are far and away there only threats at the plate and as I said earlier Stanton wants out.  I’m sure they have a bullpen and a manager too but I don’t want to give them anymore respect than I have.  If they don’t lose 110 games this season I’ll be very disappointed.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups

MLB season preview – AL West

 

It’s getting tough.  Lucky for the original members of the division the team they added are a triple A all-star team.  I don’t like the Astros chances in a division that features a team who have added the 2 biggest free agents the last 2 years and has the best young player (if not the best player) in the game, the best team in the American League the last 3 seasons, and perhaps the best young team in the bigs.  Seattle is no longer a push over either.  Its a tough division and seemingly getting tougher.  I thought hard about putting the Rangers last in the division and the Astros 1st after last night, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess the Astros won’t maintain the scorching hot roll they’re on…

 

ana1. LA Angels – Arti Moreno has become the George Steinbrener of the West coast!  Although, he is tied with the Dodgers ownership group in that category, but never the less!  Obviously this story starts with the offense.  Pujols isn’t what he used to be, but after a horrific start to the season he still ended the year with 30 bombs and 105 RBI.  I expect him to improve on those numbers this season, although over time I think that contract will still look awful.  I’m expecting Trout to have a bit of a sophmore slump, but that probably means he still hits .290, 25 bombs, 40 SB.  Nice slump!  The kid is so fun to watch.  And then Hamilton will have the pressure of that huge contract, but he has to know this offense isn’t built just around him.  You would think hitting behind Pujols would be a dream scenario for him, but that seems too logical to be true.  The rotation is overhauled as they lost Grienke, Haren and Santana, but replacing them with Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton doesn’t seem like much of a downgrade.  The bullpen needs to be better out the gate then it was last season.  Once they moved Ernesto Frieri to closer things were a little more settled.  He will setup this season and the hope is Ryan Madson can step in after having missed the entire 2012 season.  Its really the only question mark on the team.  They’re expected to win the division, win the A.L., and win the World Series.  Big pressure, but they have the team to do it and an owner willing to help them out along the way.

 

tex2. Texas Rangers – They have become one of those teams that just simply has a winning culture.  They weren’t effected when they lost Cliff Lee after they rode him to the World Series in 2010, and I’ve never been a big believer that one bat makes a huge difference in the majors.  This team has an absolutely loaded farm system so they can make a big trade, and Ron Washington gets the most out of what he has.  This offense was widely regarded the last few seasons to be the best lineup in baseball.  Josh Hamilton is great, but people need to remember what they still have.  Nelson Cruz, Adrian Beltre, David Murphy all had great seasons.  They added A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman who are both solid vets and good clubhouse guys (although A.J. can rub some the wrong way).  And guys like Ian Kinsler, and Mitch Moreland are capable of having big seasons.  There is also the possibility that top MLB prospect Jurikson Profar could be with the big club by June.  So I have no doubt they’ll still put a ton of runs on the board.  I love them adding Joakim Soria.  He missed all of 2012 after Tommy John surgery.  He has electric stuff when he is healthy and is well worth the risk.  Soria, Joe Nathan and lefty Robbie Ross could give them a heck of a bullpen.  The rotation like it has been the last few years doesn’t have an ace, but 1-5 its really solid.  It will be interesting to see how Yu Darvish handles his 2nd season.  Japanesse pitchers have fizzled out in their 2nd season traditionally.  I’m higher on this team than most, but I think most agree they’ll be in the race until the end of the season.

 

oak3. Oakland Athletics – Right there with the O’s for story of the year in the majors last season, it was amazing to watch.  But while some think they’ll continue to build on what they did in 2012, teams this young more often than not take a step back after such a great year.  Think back to the 2008 Rays and the 2006 Tigers.  Both great runs by really young teams, and neither team went back to the playoffs the following season.  He wasn’t that great of player for them, but I really believe they’ll miss Jonny Gomes.  He was a spark plug for them last season.  Chris Young is a better player, but that doesn’t mean he will be a better fit.  I do like their lineup though.  Yoenis Cespedes is the one guy on this team who I expect to put up even better numbers this season now that he has had time to adjust to life in America.  Offensively the guy has it all and at 27 a sophmore slump isn’t as likely to happen although there now is more of a book on him.  But its tough to believe that Josh Reddick will improve on 32 HR’s and other than Cespedes and Brandon Moss nobody hit higher than .259.  And while nobody doubts the arms in the rotation are amazing and have incredible upside to have a staff so young carry you the way they did last season is asking A LOT.  Brett Anderson was phenominal after this callup but he only pitched 6 games, we will see how he does over a full season.  The bullpen was incredible too.  That I have a little more faith in for the A’s because it has more experience than the rotation and a manager can have a big influence.  Bob Melvin did an unreal job last season, goes without saying.  If he can do it again, it would be even more incredible.

 

sea4. Seattle Mariners – I will always have a soft spot for this team.  The Mariners of the mid 90’s with Griffey, Buhner, Edgar Martinez, Johnson, man that was a sweet team!  Right up there for me with both of the World Series winning Jays teams.  So its been a shame for me anyway to see this franchise in the dumps like it has been for so many years now.  Slowly but surely they’re starting to put the pieces in place.  Getting Felix Hernandez locked down long term was huge for this organization and obviously he is among the elite pitchers in the game.  I like the pickup of Joe Saunders.  Crafty lefty (so a lefty who doesn’t throw hard…and how come there are no crafty righties?!) who has been through the wars.  They needed a vet in that rotation, not a lot of experience other than Saunders.  The bullpen might not be as good as A’s, but it doesn’t have the question marks that the Angels and Rangers bullpen’s have.  Tom Wilhelmensen is a solid closer for them.  As a unit they had a 3.39 ERA and opponents only hit .230 off of them last season so its definitely a strength for this team.  The lineup isn’t anything to get too excited about but one thing that could really give it a boost isn’t any new additions, but rather the fact that Safeco has been reconfigured to be a lot more hitter friendly than in the past.  With all the young bats they have in that lineup this could prove to be a huge boost mentally.  The M’s don’t have that one ELITE prospect on the way like the Angels did with Trout, or the Rangers do with Profar, but they might have the most quality in their system.  A lot of good young players already on the big club, and a lot more on the way.  Might not be this year but sometime soon things are going to pop in Seattle.

 

hou5. Houston Astros – Welcome to the American League.  Your reward is you get to put up with the Angels, Rangers and A’s.  Not exactly the Pirates, Brewers and Cubs.  I just can’t believe what has happened to this organization the last few seasons.  Through much of the 90’s and 2000’s this was one of the most well run organizations in all of MLB.  Year in year out they were in the hunt and from 1997-2005 they made the playoffs 6 times and of course were in the World Series in 2005.  Fast forward 8 years and things sure have hit rock bottom.  I love bringing back the old symbol and the new uni’s look sick!  Ok, now that I’ve said all the good allow me to focus on the bad.  Carlos Pena was their big free agent addition.  Yep, a guy who hit under .200 was the big free agent.  Now, you never know what Pena will give you.  When he feels like it, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s favorite player can still be a big bat.  But year to year you just never know what he will give you.  Jed Lowrie is a decent shortstop, but he can’t stay on the field.  Jose Altuve has become a pretty good 2nd baseman, but he’s limited.  The rotation has some ok guys with Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris at the top, but after them it is extremely thin.  What’s worse is that the bullpen is even worse than the lineup or the rotation.  They dealt closer Wilton Lopez this offseason, so closing duties will now go to Jose Veras who was decent for Milwaukee last season, but didn’t have a save.  The focus for this organization right now is to build up the farm, but man alive the team taking the field this season is scary bad….although last night they were good.

 

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MLB season preview – AL Central

 

Other than the Tigers, any team that seemingly turns a corner in this division seems to fade very quickly.  I think back to the 07 Indians and they were built for a 3 or 4 year run even if they couldn’t hang on to C.C. Sabathia past the 2008 season.  Well the 2008 season was a mess, and they haven’t come close since.  The Twins were the class of the division for most of the 2000’s, but they’ve gone completely in the tank the last 2 seasons.  The White Sox are usually pretty solid, but have only made the playoffs once in 2005 and they were quickly disposed of by the Rays in 4 games.  Then you have the Royals who have been the division’s whipping boy.  Perhaps this is there season to emerge…but history tells us in this division even if they do, it’ll be tough to maintain the success.

 

det1. Detroit Tigers – The defending AL champs are still very much so the team to beat now that they have Torii Hunter added and Victor Martinez returning to what was already a scary lineup.  I like Austin Jackson, but I think I would like him hitting 6th or 7th better.  5 tool guy, but that OBP needs to be up near .400 like it was in the first half last season.  But that’s a minor problem to have.  Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, we’re talking BIG bats in the middle of this order.  Obviously you can’t expect Cabrera to win the triple crown again.  But you can expect him to still have one of the best bats in baseball, if not the best bat.  The same goes for Justin Verlander.  Probably shouldn’t expect a Cy Young every season, but the 29 year old is a horse and should continue to be among the best pitchers in the bigs.   After Verlander it doesn’t get a whole lot easier either with Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez.  Big righties who all have pretty dirty stuff.  The only question mark on this team is in the bullpen.  Jose Velverde is gone and rightly so after his awful postseason, but now they need to find his replacement.  The buzz is about rookie Bruce Rondon, but if he falters they’ll have to find someone before the trade deadline.  If Rondon can do the job, I believe this is a 100 win team.  Can’t see them not winning this division, but crazier things have happened.

 

kc2. Kansas City Royals – They’re getting close.  It has been about a 25 year rebuild in KC.  I think when they started the rebuild the question was weather or not Jackson and Brett would want to be around for it!  But they finall have the look of a team that can get in the playoffs for the first time since their World Series title in 1985!  I personally loved the bold move GM Dayton Moore did in dealing top prospect and weekend update host Wil (yes, only 1 L) Myers to Tampa for James Sheilds and Wade Davis.  They HAD to get pitching, and while we all tend to gush over prospects the fact of the matter is you simply don’t know what they will give you.  Add to that Myers would have been a luxury at this point for the Royals.  Alex Gordon has finally emerged, Billy Butler is a big stick, and Eric Hosmer should have a bounce back season.  So they have a damn good offense, and the staff was massively improved not only by the trade for Sheilds and Davis, but also the trade for Ervin Santana.  Sheilds and Santana both have a lot of experience, great stuff, and are in their primes.  Jeremy Guthrie and Davis are the wildcards to me in this rotation.  If they can give the Royals 12-15 wins this staff should be good enough to have them in the playoff race in September.  I really like the arms they have in the bullpen, and if Greg Holland can solidify himself as the closer it could be the best pen in the Amerian League.  Nobody knows for sure what to expect from this team, but I think the offseason moves should give everyone a lift and in a weaker division the Royals should make some noise.

 

oxvkprv7v4inf5dgqdebp0yse3. Chicago White Sox – It was a real up and down season last year for the Chi Sox.  Expectations were extremely low for this team going into the season.  But Robin Ventura did a great job getting the most out of his roster and for much of the season they held 1st place in the Central.  But the Tigers came on down the stretch and the White Sox just couldn’t hang with them.  They went out with a wimper, 4-11 to end the season.  85 wins was still a success in my eyes though.  Coming into this season I don’t like the loss of A.J. Pierzynski.  It’s not that he’s that great behind the plate (pretty bad defensively) or with the bat (pretty damn good with the bat though), it’s that he’s a total spark plug both on and off the field.  He keeps things interesting in the clubhouse and over 162 games you need that on a ball club.  Tyler Flowers is a solid young player, but he has a lot more to replace than just a .278 average, 27 bombs and 77 RBI’s.  The offense still has some pop.  Adam Dunn will either strike out, fly out, or hit it out.  Alex Rios had the best season of his career last season, Paul Konerko is still putting up big numbers but is now 37, so while the potential for a good offense is there I think there are just too many question marks to expect much.  They’ll need to rely on their pitching which is rock solid with Chris Sale and Jake Peavy at the top of the rotation.  The bullpen is rock solid as well.  If they get the runs, they’ll be in the hunt for a wildcard spot.  They just better hope last seasons collapse doesn’t carry over as we have seen happen with so many teams.

 

peii986yf4l42v3aa3hy0ovlf4. Minnesota Twins – What the hell has happened?  This was the model franchise in MLB only about 3 years ago!  Year after year they had a tiny payroll and they were a very competitive team.  From 2002-2010 this franchise won 6 division titles.  Of course they only won 1 playoff series in that time span, but I’m sure Twins fans would much rather have those problems again than the ones they’ve had the last 2 seasons.  Terry Ryan was the architect of those teams and now he is back and the Twins hope he can work his magic and quickly.  The pitching staff was a huge problem for this team the last 2 seasons, so he will be looking to do what he can to upgrade it even further.  He’s already brought in Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Coreria which should help, but the wildcard for them will be Kyle Gibson.  This kid has absolutely filthy stuff, but was sidetracked by Tommy John surgery which forced him to miss the end of the 2011 season and most of 2012.  If he can come back from that and show the promise he had 2 years ago the staff just might be formidable.  The pen also needs a pretty big overhaul which Ryan has yet to really sink his teeth into, but I’m sure he will continue to retool throughout the season.  I’m a big fan of Mauer and Morneau, and then Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit are really good bats from the right side of the plate so the offense is pretty good in the middle.  The problem will be replacing Denard Span and Ben Revere at the top of the order.  I like Terry Ryan a lot and I think even though it looks pretty bleak on paper, this team will be a bit better than expected.

 

wnyd2zhh84f50ux4uxyqbktbh5. Cleveland Indians – First of all I’m a huge Terry Francona guy.  Awesome hire for an organization that desperately needed someone with his experience, the level of respect that he will command, and the steady hand will bring to pressure situations.  But the problem at least for this season is that Francona doesn’t have Big Papi, doesn’t have Manny, doesn’t have Pedroia, hell he doesn’t even have Kevin Millar!  Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Pedro Cerrano, Roger Dorn, not even Rube Baker is walking through that door.  I liked bringing Ohio native Nick Swisher home even though the money was pretty steep.   Swisher is a great clubhouse guy and has a lot of experience as well….although his latest postseason experience was something I’m certain he would like to forget!  Carlos Santana, Mark Reynolds, Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Brantley make up the heart of the lineup along with Swisher, but they’re all just decent.  They need a guy to emerge from that group.  They also need a someone in the staff to emerge as well.  You would think it would be Ubaldo Jimenez, but he’s never been close in Cleveland to what he was during the 2010 season.  He’s getting worse, not better.  Trevor Bauer is the kid who could emerge.  As long as they don’t try to lean on him too much, if he learns to pitch he’ll be their ace someday soon.  Unlike most of the teams in this division, closer won’t be a problem for the tribe.  Chris Perez is a solid closer, although the rest of the pen isn’t anything to get too jacked about.  It’s a rebuild that’s on the right track, but it has a long ways to go.

 

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MLB season preview – AL East

 

I don’t know if anyone debates that this is the toughest division in baseball.  It took teams like the O’s and Jays a long time to get back to where they were in the 90’s, but now both organizations are seemingly back.  And I may have the Red Sox 5th, I may have the Rays 1st, but I wouldn’t be anything shocked if it ended up with the Sox in 1st and the Rays in 5th.  It’s that tight of a division and should be awesome to follow all season.

 

qiru2jftx1a378eq8ad0s4ik41. Tampa Bay Rays – I would love to put the Jays 1st, but I have to be objective and I just don’t see how you can go against this teams pitching, even without James Sheilds.  David Price is filthy and he’s still only 27 years old.  This could be the season that Matt Moore steps up into the elite class of the American League.  He turns 24 in June, so if that doesn’t happen this season I would suggest he has a bit of time left to figure it out…they also have Chris Archer speaking of 24 year olds with amazing stuff and apparently an even better work ethic.  The bullpen last season was just as good if not better than the starters, registering the best ERA in the American League.  No way that Fernando Rodney has the same kind of season again this year (48 saves, 0.60 ERA), but if he gives them anything close to that again they’ll be happy.  The bats are the weakness of this team and have been for a while now.  The reason they dealt Sheilds and Wade Davis was to get super prospect Wil Myers from the Royals.  This kid has incredible potential, but you likely won’t see him before the end of May at the earliest.  Desmond Jennings takes over for B.J. Upton in CF moving over from LF where I’m sure Myers will end up playing when he is called up.  But really the offense is all on Evan Longoria’s shoulders.  If he can stay healthy this season it will go a long way to getting the Rays a division title.  Another big reason I like the Rays to take the division is Joe Maddon.  The guy has established himself as one of the top managers in baseball.  It helps that he consistently has one of the best rotations in the A.L., and that rotation should serve them well again this season.

 

2559d7603ouedg7ldhw0br4fn2. Toronto Blue Jays – HOMER ALERT!!!  I will try to be objective here, but excuse me if this starving Jays fan is a little pumped about them having the best team they’ve had since the glory years.  I actually didn’t mind John Gibbons being brought back to manage.  He did a solid job the last time around.  That pitching staff is ridiculously deep.  I’m not sure if R.A. Dickey can keep up what he’s been doing the last few years, but if he can’t Josh Johnson I’m guessing will take over as the ace.  He’s got ridiculous stuff and is pitching for a contract so I believe he has a very big season.  Mark Buehrle was a very underrated addition.  Very solid vet and is a lock to get you 200 innings.  Brandon Morrow will be helped out greatly by having the pressure taken off.  The offense is very balanced.  Jose Bautista being healthy is without a doubt key for this team but if he is Jays fans have come to simply expect 40+ HR’s from him.  And now he has an elite leadoff man in Jose Reyes to constantly drive in.  But the big question marks are at 1st/DH and in CF.  Adam Lind may never get back to the production we seen in 09 and Rasmus is very talented but is an enigma.  Edwin Encarnacion had an amazing season, and while it was out of the blue, he was always a guy with that kind of talent.  40 HR’s is tough to repeat, but if he gives them around 30 I think the Jays would be thrilled.  The bullpen also has big question marks, but a healthy Sergio Santos could go a very long way.  They easily could win the division, but I think it will take a little time to gel so a wildcard spot is a safer bet.

 

nyy3. NY Yankees – HATE WITH A PASSION ALERT!!!  Nothing against Ryan “Bloomberg” Doull (friend of the blog), I’ve just never taken to them.  But dislike aside this absolutely feels like the season it falls apart for the Yanks.  Many people have been predicting it for a long time, but they’ve never had the injuries that this team will have.  A-Rod out until at least the All-Star break (not to mention more steroid distractions), Jeter coming back from his ankle and fatness injuries (fat is a tough one to recover from, I know first hand), Curtis Granderson is on the DL, and of course Mark Teixeira.  Hell even GM Brian Cashman is injured!  Vernon Wells I doubt is any kind of answer.  Catching is a total mess too.  Gary Sanchez isn’t ready to take that spot, and Chris Stewart sure isn’t the answer.  I just can’t believe they’re going into the season THIS weak behind the plate.  The pitching is suspect after C.C. Sabathia.  Andy Pettitte pitched well last season, but he’s going to turn 41 in June.  Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda are solid, but not what they need.  Who knows if Mo Rivera can do his thing at 43 and coming off a major injury himself?  The bullpen is pretty deep, but they need Rivera to be…Rivera.  The one thing I won’t rip on though is Joe Girardi, he has been a bit underrated since taking over in the Bronx.  But there are just too many question marks, no big offseason additions, I just don’t see it happening for the Yanks in 2013.  Then again, they’ve shocked us all before.

 

bal4. Baltimore Orioles – Nothing against Patty (friend of the blog), but I just don’t see them getting the magic back that they had last season.  It was remarkable how great this team was in tight ball games and how they just kept getting the clutch hit at the right time, the clutch pitch at the right time.  Buck Showalter is an elite manager, no other way to put it.  But once again he has his work cut out for him.  Dylan Bundy will help once he is called up.  Bundy (much like Wil Myers and other big time prospects) probably won’t be seen in the majors until late May/early June.  The kid has ace written all over him.  Jason Hammel has to stay healthy.  I don’t know how they survived without him in the middle of last season.  Miguel Gonzalez was a nice surprise going 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA, they’ll need more of that to compete in this division though.  The lineup I like better than the rotation.  Adam Jones is a stud, Manny Machado was fast tracked last season but looked amazing, and Matt Weiters is one of the best catchers in the American League who is still on the rise.  The bullpen isn’t really a strength but the way Buck Showalter used it last season it kind of became one.  It just seemed like he always was using the right guy at the right time.  But Jim Johnson is obviously the key.  If he can mantain the level he was pitching at last season the rest should fall into place.  I like this team but in such a tough division and seeing how the ball seemed to always bounce their way last season I just can’t see them repeating 2012.

 

bos5. Boston Red Sox – Nothing against Phippsy (nobody’s friend)….actually, I hope you take big offense to this pick Phippsy!  Having seen John Farrell’s act up close, I don’t know that he is the answer Red Sox fans and management think he will be.  It blew apart with Farrell at the controls last season in Toronto, and this is a lot more hostile of a situation than that was.   I think its a down year for the Sox, but they still have pieces to keep them very competitive.  I may have them finishing 5th, but that’s a reflection of the division and not that the Sox will be that bad.  Having a healthy Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz would be a nice start to things.  The offense is good IF they’re healthy.  Bringing in Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes will help.  The staff needs more than health to get it turned around on their end.  Its tough to explain what has happened to both Jon Lester and John Lackey.  They need to regain there form for the Sox to have any hope of contending in this division.  Clay Bucholz has been OK, but he’s never lived up to the lofty expectations Red Sox fans had for him.  And as for free agent addition Ryan Dempster, he needs to prove he can pitch in the A.L.  He was a disaster after going from the Cubs to the Rangers last season.  He is gritty and will battle, but at 36 years old (on May 3rd) that can only get you so far after so many years.  The bullpen will get a boost from adding Joel Hanrahan as their new closer and Andrew Bailey back after missing most of 2012.  I wouldn’t be shocked if they snagged a wildcard spot, but they would need a lot to go right.

 

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