Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Season Preview : Toronto Blue Jays

The Team      Toronto really do suffer from being in the AL East. They have been one of the more consistently good teams in the AL for the last six years but Tampa, Boston, and New York have been three of the best teams in baseball recently so playoff baseball is still elusive.

The Good     Even with Aaron Hill and Adam Lind struggling most of the year, the Jays still managed to lead the universe in home runs and even if Bautista inevitably drops off the club still expects improved production from short, first and the outfield.

There seems to be a constant flow of pitchers coming up through the system. There's a number of guys with a legitimate shot at cracking the Jays roster this Spring.

The Bad     There looks to be a lot of changes in the Toronto roster this season. The bullpen was will see its entire back end rebuilt and a number of guys will be filling new roles.

Even with all the home runs, the Blue Jays were still middle of the pack for runs scored due to being one of the worst teams at getting men on base.

Best Case Scenario     Where to begin? If Morrow continues to show he's figured things out, Drabek has a RoY calibre season, Dotel and Francisco nail down the 8th and 9th, Davis and Podsednik can get on base and steal 80 bases, Hill and Lind regain their 2009 form and Rivera, Encarnacion and Escobar get their careers back in gear then a wild card spot could be theirs.

My Prediction     Did you see that list of things that need to go right in order to be in the hunt for a playoff spot? They'll be a long way back of the Yankees and Red Sox and probably behind Tampa. Its even possible that Baltimore can bridge the gap but Toronto should finish with around 75 wins.

Season Preview : Oakland A's

The Team     The A's haven't been to the post season since 2006 which was also the last time they finished above .500. In that time the only thing that has grown is the ego of Billy Beane as he continues to hunt down the latest market inefficiency and the patience the A's fans are having with Beane's approach.

The Good     Playing in a pitchers park certainly helps. Their rotation were a big part in leading the team to an AL best 3.56 ERA while surendering the fourth fewest walks and the likes of Cahill, Anderson and Gio (Gonzalez) will be looked on to carry the club yet again.

Kurt Suzuki is one of the best all around catchers in the game and brings the kind of intangibles that allow him to provide production in the middle of the order even though on a good team he'd be batting in the 8-hole.

The Bad     This team does not score runs. Their slugging percentage was tied for second worst in the AL and it all stems from the infield corners where Kouzmanoff and Barton combined for 26 homers which would be a pedestrian total for a single corner infielder on a big league roster. The addition of Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui should help them some but neither really figures to have the kind of power needed to clear those Colisseum walls regularly.

Its also worth noting that the likes of Matsui, Willingham, Crisp, Ellis and Andrew Bailey have not been very very durable in recent seasons and all of those players will be key to any success Oakland has this year.

Best Case Scenario     Bailey and Harden stay healthy, Wuertz rebounds and join Fuentes to form possibly the best bullpen in baseball backing up and excellent starting core which helps to hold opposing lineups to minimal production. The offence will be lead by Ellis, Crisp and Pennington and their speed on the bases and timely hits from the likes of Barton and Willingham see Oakland contend in the west.

My Prediction     They just won't score runs. It is so hard to get by in the modern game with singles and doubles hitters and while I wouldn't be surprised to see them get out of the blocks strong there is always the risk that momentum will be be curtailed by injuries. Expect them to fight it out with Anaheim for second place out west.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Season Preview : Houston Astros

The Team     The Astos' season started off badly and then it plateaued and culminated in the trading of long time ace Roy Oswalt to Philly. Its been a fair while since they were relevant in the NL.

The Good     Its tough to really come up with anything that is particularly good about the Astros. The rotation shows some signs of being a strength. Wandy Rodriguez continues to emerge as an ace and Houston will hope that JA Happ and Brett Myers can show greater consistency behind him and that Bud Norris can start to harness his stuff better. They could be a formidable group or a very average one.

The Bad     Many will see the corner infield spots as a strength for the club to build on but Brett Wallace continues to underwhelm (does anyone know how he got a reputation as a blue chip prospect?) and Chris Johnson strikes out far too much to keep that average up. Adding Clint Barmes and Bill Hall to the infield won't help that unit produce offensively either.

Brandon Lyon anchoring a bullpen doesn't fill me with confidence. He's made a career out of being the one they turn to when there's no one else better.

Best Case Scenario     The team needs Pence and Bourn to get their OBP's back around the .350 mark and use that speed to create offence. After that they desperately need Carlos Lee to get back to his .300/.350/.500 self because there is not a lot of upside in that lineup.

All hope lies in that pitching and if they play to their potential then this could be a .500 club.

My Prediction     Astros fans should continue to be glad they share a division with the Cubs and Pirates. Thanks to those two franchises Houston should be able to pad their win total and stay off the foot of the Central but they are a long way behind St Louis, Milwaukee and Cincinatti.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Season Preview : The California LA Angels of Anaheim AKA The Angels Angels of Anaheim

Looks like I'll be doing this more sporadically than initially thought so I decided to get a head start on these and alphabetical order is good way to go.

The Team   The Halo's spent the whole off-season being linked with all the big free agents and then contrived not to land any of them. Having finished third in the west, 10 games back from the reigning AL champions, they must have felt the need to do something drastic to bridge the gap leading to a head scratching move for Vernon Wells and his contract.

The Good   One big free agent acquisition they did land was Scott Downs who adds a strong lefty presence to a sound bullpen that will back up a great 1-2 punch of Dan Haren and Jeff Weaver at the top of the rotation.

Perhaps the biggest strength will be a defence where the two Gold Glove outfielders will not be the best defenders in the outfield. Bourjos' play in center allowed the aging Torii Hunter to shift to right where the club hopes he will be able to stay out of harms way and in the lineup where he continues to be a key performer and with Wells taking over in left Anaheim can use Bobby Abreu principally at DH.

Another bonus is the bench where Maicer Izturis will once again see time at short, second and third, Abreu can still play the outfield if needed and Alberto Callapso should provide some good at bats.

The Bad    Last year Anaheim allowed more runs (702) than they scored (681) which is never a good thing and they really didn't do much to address that.

They are relying on a batting order with no obvious leadoff man and for a team that likes to run that is a problem. They also have an order lacking genuine power and what power they have belongs to aging and injury prone hitters.

As good as Haren and Weaver are you have to worry about Scott Kazmir and Joel PiƱeiro and as good as the middle relief should be Fernando Rodney has never convinced anyone that he can hold down a closers role for an extended time.

Best Case Scenario    The Angels need a number of players to step up - Rodney needs to solidify the relief, Kendry Morales needs to rebound from injury and provide some thump to the order, Wells needs to play like he did in 2010 not 2009, Hunter needs to stay healthy, Howie Kendrick needs to put together a full season of production rather than the odd week/month,.... If all those things come together and Haren plays to the Cy Young level he's capable of then they have the pieces to challenge in the west.

My Prediction    Anaheim will, like last season, be a .500 team. They will struggle to enough runs to support the rear of the rotation and Haren, Weaver and Ervin Santana can't all win 20 games.

Mike Trout watch should begin some time in June.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fish Re-Sign Nolasco

Ricky Nolasco signed a new three year deal worth $26.5m with the Marlins. The Marlins have a tiny payroll and are always reluctant to spend money and yet they have given all that money to a guy with a career ERA in the mid-4.00's whilst playing his career in a pitcher friendly park. He has also only pitched more than 185 innings once.

This deal makes no sense.

Why handcuff yourself for three years to one guy who will be eating a good percentage of your payroll if he has never shown any consistency or reliability?

Dotel To Toronto

Octavio Dotel has agreed to join the Blue Jays on a one year deal worth $3.5m and a club option for 2012 at the same rate.

Toronto have already been making noises about not expecting to compete in 2011 and building towards 2012 and this very much ties into that. After losing Gregg and Downs in the offseason and with Frasor coming off a down year, Dotel looks like a very cheap short term closing option. He also looks a likely trade option down the stretch, especially with the club option attached.

This move doesn't change much as so much of how well Toronto will do next year will be down to a lot of young players who will be looking to take the next step (or even the first step) in their big league careers but it certainly helps to have a veteran presence in key positions.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Greinke Deal

OK, I'll get around to the lunacy of the Werth, Crawford and Lee deals eventually but this deal is fresh on my mind so here goes.

First and foremost you have to say that the Brewers really did go balls out on this deal. They don't have much in the farm to give them hope for the future and Prince Fielder is likely gone at the deadline unless they really make a strong playoff push. Their window of opportunity is pretty much this coming season and having Greinke fronting the rotation with Gallardo and Marcum is a great place to start.

Of course they are still a very flawed team - how can a side with Carlos Gomez in the outfield not be? Yuniesky Betancourt's only real value is to fill the hole left by Escobar and I have no doubt it won't take long for the Milwaukee faithful to realise just what it was about Betancourt that had Mariner and Royals fans pulling their hair out in frustration. I personally can't remember a guy who combined the ability to make all the plays at short and the ability to just make countless bone-headed mistakes - and reading that sentence makes as much sense as relying on Betancourt as your every day shortstop.

The Royals side of the deal is a little bit more complicated. I can't help but feel that they got the short end of the stick to some extent. None of the parts they aquired are sure things to become stars. Escobar was a tad disappointing last year for someone who was so highly thought of out of the minors. Cain did alright after his call up but doen't really have any one impact tool he just does a bit of everything and looks more like a good fourth outfielder.

Odorizzi has plenty of potential (he was ranked the top prospect in the Brewers system by Baseball America) but is still a long, long way from the Majors. Word is he looks like Zack Greinke-lite but he has yet to show he can log serious innings which really lowers his floor.

Jeffress has an easy fastball that sits in the mid-90's but can get into the high-90's. He spent all of last year pitching in relief and with a big curveball that he struggles to command and little else in his arsenal it's easy to see why. In 10 big league innings he walked 6 and struck out 8 which are ratios (albeit in a limited sample size) that need drastic improvement.

Ultimately this deal was all about the future for KC. With a stacked system that looks like it should start baring fruit in 2012, Greinke was unhappy and unlikely to be around at that time and they cashed him in to fill some of the few holes that they had. They needed a shortstop and Escobar plays good D and should, at worst, hit enough to hold down a spot at the bottom of the order. They also don't have a natural centerfielder and Cain can hold that down even if he's not an ideal fit. They still need a catcher but they have plenty of bullets in the farm to try and make more deals.

So who won this deal? I think its hard to not say Milwaukee but KC's ambitions are all much more long term and it will be at least two years till we can see how things panned out for them.

Right now the Royals are still the worst team in the AL Central and have the best group of prospects in baseball, so nothing has really changed there. Milwaukee still have no genuine prospects on the horizon but it is easy to make a case that, coupled with the Marcum deal, they have the weapons to be right in the thick of a pennant race in 2011 which is a definate uptick from where they were. All they have to think about now is what to do with Prince Fielder.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Why Doesn't Anyone Like A-Rod?

Well, if you saw the game with the Jays on Wednesday you would have seen why. If things aren't going his way then he acts like a petulent child stomping his feet and screaming until someone caves.

For those of you who don't know what happened, basically the Yankees were up by two in the top of the ninth with two outs when Posada launched a pop up to third base. Newly promoted Howie Clark parked under it to end the inning and leave the Jays an unlikely chance at making a comeback against Mo Rivera. However, A-Rod wasn't satisfied with that and obviously thought that Rivera isn't quite good enough because he felt the need to call, "Mine" as he rounded third and Clark, thinking his shortstop McDonald had called him off, stepped aside and let the ball drop.

Now as much as some of us dislike the Yankees, you do respect them as throughout their history they have won games by simply playing the game the way its supposed to be played and backing their talent. There is no way you can respect such Sandlot League styled antics. Rodriguez even mentioned how it was like how Hill had stolen home earlier in the series saying both were extreme acts because they were 'desperate to win'. Newsflash Alex, you WERE winning already.

Jon Gibbons summed it up well, "One thing you know about the Yankees, one of the reasons they're so respected, is they do things right," Gibbons said. "They always have. They have a lot of pride and a lot of class. They play the game hard. That's not Yankee pride right there. That's not the way they play. I thought it was bush league."

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Baseball's Train Wreck AKA The AL East

Long seen as the toughest division in MLB with the two biggest franchises in the sport, you'd be forgiven for thinking that its this years worst and least competitive with Boston already amassing a ten game lead on the second place Yankees. However, if we look at whats going on behind the scenes we will see how a lot of factors have gone into making this division such a debacle.

Of course the main issue has been injuries.

We all know about the problems the Yankees have had in the rotation which has resulted in eleven different guys starting games for the side. In fact only Andy Pettitte has been ever present in the rotation since opening day and even with the resources the Yankees have, no team can expect to be consistent with that kind of turnover. Even guys like Wang and Mussina haven't been able to get settled into the season yet and they were seen as the stable elements of the staff going into the year.

Then we have the obvious dark horse in the division in Toronto who are missing three of their top starters including one of the best in baseball (Roy Halladay), their leadoff man (Reed Johnson), the principal catcher (Greg Zaun) and their ace closer BJ Ryan. So that's their most important starter, their most important bullpen guy, their leader in the field and the sparkplug of the order. Who'd have thought that would dampen a teams season?

Even the Orioles, who got off to such a hot start, have suddenly tappered off. They shot out of the gates on the back of a very good rotation and then they lost Jaret Wright (not necessarily a big loss) and Adam Loewen (now he is a big loss) and what was a very good rotation has become a rotation with a couple of good guys and a bunch of who?

Much was made of Tampa's new influx of young talent and even with Elijah Dukes subbing for Baldelli, that's still one of the best outfields in baseball. But the DRays are still the DRays and a contender for the worst record in the AL. Its also fun to look at the depth charts on and see that the primary first baseman, second baseman and shortstop are all BJ 'E6' Upton since Iwamura went on the DL.

Thus far the BoSox have only recently picked up their first injury to an impact guy with the inevitable spell on the DL by Josh Beckett (is he their new Pedro?) and we're all still waiting for the injuries to Drew and Papelbon and Dice-K's inevitable fatigue down the stretch.

In these days of the ridiculous unbalanced schedule (how they can justify that in the days of the Wild Card is beyond me) should we be surprised that Boston are winning so many games now? They already had a very talented roster and then you handicap all the half decent teams they have to play the majority of their games against and it's going to happen. Imagine how happy Detroit would be if Santana, Ortiz, Sabathia, Carmona, Westbrook, Pierzynski, Podsednik, Buerhle and Jenks all went down?

I still say it's early and I still think the Yankees will make a race of it come September but all you people who look at Boston with those league leading 31 wins and are saying they'll win the World Series, get ready for some disappointment. To say they have a lot of things going their way is an understatement.