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Derrek Lee, JJ Hardy, Kevin Gregg and Mark Reynolds: All Signs of Improving O’S

Going into the 2010 off season, the Baltimore Orioles had seemingly the same needs as they do every off season: first base, shortstop, third base, closer, and starting pitching.

They tried to get by, like they do every year, with the cheap patch-work signing of Cesar Isturis, who failed miserably, hitting just .230 in the process. Thankfully, this year he will be in a more suitable role of back-up utility infielder, where he still could hold some value off the bench.

Comparing the starting lineups per position of most games played, which would you rather have?

2010 Orioles                                            2011 Orioles

1B Ty Wigginton                                      Derrek Lee

2B Brian Roberts                                     Roberts

SS Cesar Izturis                                      JJ Hardy

3B Miguel Tejada                                     Mark Reynolds

LF Felix Pie                                            Pie ??

RF Nick Markakis                                   Markakis

CF Adam Jones                                      Jones

C Matt Wieters                                       Wieters

DH Luke Scott                                        Scott

Improvements all across the board (and I really mean it this year!)

Across the board Lee, Hardy, and Reynolds are upgrades over their predecessors. Overall, the team ranked 27th in MLB in runs last year with just 613. The three players that left, Tejada, (15HR 71 RBI), Wigginton, (22HR, 76RBI) and Izturis (1HR 28 RBI) (demoted) combined for 38HRs and 175RBI respectively.

Their replacement-upgrades on the other hand, Mark Reynolds (32HRS, 85RBI), Derrek Lee (19HRS, 80RBI), and JJ Hardy (6HR 38RBI) combined for 57HRS and 203 RBI. Heck, Reynolds and Hardy alone hit as many homers as the previous trio and that doesn’t even factor in Derrek Lee’s 19 bombs.

In addition, Reynolds (27), Lee (35) and Hardy (28) average 30 years of age compared to 33 for Tejada (36 allegedly), Wigginton (33), and Izturis (30). For those thinking that experience and veteran leadership will surely be lost, consider that they didn’t exactly win with that wisdom last year, so getting younger can’t hurt and the players they brought in are hardly washed up in any sense like in years past with the Orioles.

In fact, I see Derrek Lee having a Bobby Bonilla or Eddie Murray type veteran impact and influence on this team like in the mid-90s, when the team was making annual playoff pushes. Its a move more typical of Pat Gillick’s deadline deals, so look at it as they got him a few months early.

For those thinking they did okay on offense but they forgot to address defense, each player is also known for his defense. In Lee and Hardy’s case, it could be argued their defense is actually better than their offensive game, which in Lee’s case is particularily complementary since he’s such a solid hitter.

What about the pitching?

For those thinking Andy McPhail addressed only offense and defense but neglected the pitching, the team not only kept middle reliever Koji Uehara, who improved once he found his niche in the bullpen, but also added closer Kevin Gregg from divisional rival Toronto, thus directly hurting them and forcing them to downgrade to Octavio Dotel.

While Gregg had a high (3.51) ERA last year for a closer with the Blue Jays, he did amass 37 saves, which would rank almost three times as many as saves leader Uehara’s 13. Besides, if someone else had signed him, say the Boston Red Sox, they’d be praised for strengthening an already solid bullpen and for giving themselves options should Jonathan Papelbon get himself into trouble.

So the Orioles did what they had to do, and in Lee and Gregg’s cases, overpaid for free agents who normally don’t want to come there for obvious reasons. In each case, minus Hardy, who I think will have the least impact of the quartet but remains a mild upgrade nonetheless, ask yourself this, “If not him. than who?”

We know in Lee’s case it would have been Adam LaRoche and while he too would have been an upgrade, we now have the next year to evaluate how he does in Washington. We can wonder what he may have done in Baltimore as his stats will be compared nightly to Lee’s and see who came out better on the deal.

For me personally, I was pulling for LaRoche initially because of his consistency (20+ hrs in six of seven big-league seasons including three straight 25) but I was swayed by the fans’ desire from message boards to blogs for the more professional veteran perceived to be the more complete hitter in Lee. We’ll see who won out.

So what does it all mean for 2011?

With the Rays‘ inevitable demise (although I think their starting pitching will keep them in more games than people think) and likely falling to the cellar, logic would suggest the Orioles would simply ascend to 4th, but not so fast, my friends.

Look at the New York Yankees who didn’t make a single upgrade to their current roster, having only kept icons Derek Jeter, who had the worst season of his career, and Rivera, who contrary to reports, wasn’t going anywhere. I refuse to give them credit for keeping their guys.

They failed to upgrade a bat in Carl Crawford and with it, youth and speed. They failed to land Cliff Lee to go with a weakened, aging, and thin starting rotation. At this point it’s Sabathia, Burnett and pray-to-God that Andy Pettite comes back.

With him, I think they finish no higher than 3rd, due to their continued lack of starting pitching and adding no impact free agents or youth. Yes they got Russell Martin, but that’s it.

Without Pettite I think there is a very serious battle for 3rd with Baltimore right behind Boston (1st) and Toronto (2nd) who lost only Gregg among its impact free agents. (I love their Rajai Davis move by the way.)

Long story short, I was going to have the O’s finish some five games or so behind the Yankee$ for third anyway, just to show the gap has been closing, and because of the O’s lack of starting pitching.

I still think they need to add a 15 game winner (Garza would have been perfect) and I have no idea how manager Buck Showalter got that staff to go 34-23 to finish the season (the team’s record).

Still, if they can get a lead with their hitting and hold it for five innings, qualifying that starter for the win before they go to their bullpen, as of today, I’m going to go bold and say they finish 3rd, something around 83 wins. But my projections will come out in mid February or early March when all the moves are done.

In a perfect world (outside of winning the division), they could finish 2nd and vie for the Wild Card, but that’s simply too optimistic with that lack of starting pitching. They also have to be careful not to succumb to too many changes too quickly in fitting in the new guys.

Still, a hot start (April and May) mixed with a solid finish (August and September like last year) would allow for some back-to-reality falling, which I predict, in the summer months of June and July, will get them their 3rd place finish.

The hot start would infuse optimism like in 2004 when Tejada, Lopez, and Palmeiro came to town, giving me memories of 1996-97, the last time the team made the post-season only to see that dashed. The strong finish would give people hope for next year and have them end on a positive note instead of the Blue Jay-esque hot finish last year that no one knows what to make of.

That Wild card push could come next year if they expand the playoffs to include two Wild Cards. Many people including’s John Paul Morosi are so quick to just hand to Toronto. Next year is not our year, but for the first time since the 2003 offseason, it could be closer than it’s been for a long time. If you are sensing the parallels to the 90’s and the references I am making, you are not alone.

They say it’s not how you start but how you finish, but in the Orioles’ case, why can’t it be both?

Information and statistics from directly contributed to the content of this article.

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Busy Baltimore Orioles Lead Small-Market Resurgence

As my previous article about the Oakland A’s described the recent activity of these traditionally small-market and to some extent ’80s-competitive “super” power teams, because I discussed the A’s in that article I will omit them from this one, their moves notwithstanding.

With a weaker west, DeJesus and Matsui, can we just give the A’s the division now?

All of these teams were at some point (along with the Padres and Pirates, who will be discussed to some extent here but haven’t done as much as the above to warrant as much analysis) good in the 1980s when many of us of that generation started following baseball. It is because of this nostalgia that we endorse their resurgence since that is many of our first memories with the sport.

If I had to grade their activity to date I’d rank them in the following order in terms of competitiveness (translation: after these moves were made how likely they helped them move towards the playoffs):

  1. Oakland A’s (see other article for in-depth details)
  2. Milwaukee Brewers
  3. San Diego Padres
  4. Baltimore Orioles
  5. Washington Nationals
  6. Pittsburgh Pirates


Milwaukee Brewers

This team skyrockets to the top of this list with their bold move that literally had to make the increasingly irrelevant 🙂 New York Yankee$ jealous with their trade for Kansas City ace Zack Grienke.

We all know about the Brewers solid depth of hitting, and it was obvious it was being wasted. GM Doug Melvin made it a point to add two starting pitchers, and he did just that with ace Zack Grienke and solid No. 4 in Shawn Marcum, who should win a dozen or so games (likely more) out of that spot.

While I’d like to see them add one more starter yet, and I question who is going to close games, there is no question the rotation is so much better with:

Ace Grienke


Randy Wolf

Shaun Marcum

Chris Neverson

While I am still not convinced they could get second in the division which would mean a legit chance at fighting for the Wild Card since I think the NL Central is the Reds for the foreseeable future, they’ve at least given themselves a chance, on paper, to do just that. For the first time in a long time. It’s a move that could be seen as CC Sabathia II, basically a second chance at rolling the dice and acquiring an Ace for a second run at the playoffs for the small-market Brewers, who seem to win 80 every year now. That’s a vast improvement from the past.


San Diego Padres

After they lost a local marketable star in Adrian Gonzalez, everyone, myself included, expected the budget-conscious Padres to fall to fifth place after a surprising 2010 run.

While they have lost pitchers Jon Garland and Kevin Correia, whom they must replace, I have no doubt they will. They rebounded nicely with veteran additions Jason Barlett and Orlando Hudson, giving them a suddenly recognizable infield that could soon add Derrek Lee.

Maybe this team will be alright after all? While third place won’t get them in the playoffs, I think they have a legit chance at that now, which says a lot when you lose A-Gon early in the offseason for nothing (prospects), causing people to draw early conclusions about your 2011 chances.


Baltimore Orioles

The only reason they don’t move up higher is because they play in the American League East, and history shows even with their improvements all across the board, it’s still too much to overcome to make a difference.

Still, no one played better in the American League late than the O’s, who finished 2010 34-23 after new manager Buck Showalter came aboard. Can it carry over next year? Probably not, as I have no idea how the no-name pitching staff did that good, and we’ve seen teams like the Royals and notably Cito Gaston’s Blue Jays scorch at the end for seasons for 85 wins and fourth place year after year only to stay in that limbo.

This team has already taken on a lot of payroll, adding Mark Reynolds from the downtrodden Diamondbacks for two kids that never worked in their system, anyway, and in doing so added $10.5 million in payroll in moves not seen since their ’90s run.

Next, they added $7.25 million more in payroll by taking starting shortstop J.J. Hardy and utility man Brendan Harris off the Twins hands for two kids who may never pan out.

Finally, they re-signed solid relief pitcher Koji Uehara for $2 million less than he would he would have gotten had they simply picked up his option. They also remain in the hunt for Derrek Lee or Adam LaRoche at first, whom Reynolds wants, seeing how they played together in Arizona. The O’s also remain the favorites to land Kevin Gregg, who saved 37 last year for Toronto.

1B LaRoche or Lee

2B Roberts

SS Hardy

3B Reynolds

DH Scott

LF Pie?

RF Markakis

CF Jones

C Wieters

Suddenly that lineup looks solid with upgrades at 3B, SS and 1B from last year. If Showalter can have similar success with the X-factor starting rotation, this team may be a lot closer than you think, even in the suddenly crowded and competitive East where, outside of Boston, the gap continues to close.


Washington Nationals

They made their big splash with Jayson Werth. While its a highly controversial signing, it shows the once-small market Nationals have some money to spend and aren’t afraid to do it.

While they stupidly gave away Josh Willingham (see my A’s article), they claim it’s to save money to perhaps add a Derrek Lee, which, if true, is OK. But production-wise, it’s probably a wash, causing the team to not get better, but to hold ground.

While they didn’t land him, the fact they were in the Grienke talks shows how far this team has come in a willingness to spend. They dominated the winter meetings with their big splash as people continue to monitor them now. What else do they have up their sleeves? You have to think with losing out on Grienke, being in the talks for Cliff Lee before losing out on him, too, will only intensify their efforts to land Carl Pavano, to whom they’ve also been linked.

Like the Brewers, this team needs to add two starters to go with Jordan Zimmerman and Jason Marquis, but if they are able to do that their rotation looks like this:






That looks a lot better than in years past and like the Brewers moving Wolf down to his natural No. 3 and Gallardo to No. 2, they are able to shift guys down to their normal spots, causing them to pitch against more worthy, equal, and thus beatable opponents, allowing their teams to have a better chance than if they were mismatched due to lack of talent.


Pittsburgh Pirates

Don’t laugh, but adding Kevin Correia, Matty Diaz, and Lyle Overbay at SP, LF, and 1B are all upgrades over the crap they ran out their last year.

While these are all short-term, financially friendly contracts (i.e., asily movable contracts at the trading deadline so reminiscent of this franchise) they make the team better on paper (at least until they mess it up on the field, that is). Still, it’s nice to see they are active making Oakland A’s-like calculated moves and not just bargain shopping for scraps in January like usual small market teams in years past.

While the Phillies and Red Sox may steal all the headlines, these surprisingly active, small-market teams have quietly all improved, which is more than I can say for the big-market New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels or New York Yankee$.

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AL West: With a Weaker West, DeJesus & Matsui, Can We Just Give The A’s The Division Now?

I don’t know if you noticed two things, but the Oakland A’s with their ragtag, no-name pitching staff and always-youthful roster somehow stumbled their way to an 81-81 (.500) record last season in the suddenly wide-open American League West.

Keep in mind it’s probably only going to take 85 wins to take this division anyway and the A’s are the most improved. Also, keep in mind that every year there is a small market club that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Last year the Reds, my pre-season Wild Card pick, exceeded even my expectations by winning the NL Central. Consider the A’s this year’s Reds.

Series of small, under-the-radar calculated moves

While I can’t name five members of their 2010 roster, 2011 is shaping up very nicely with a series of under-the-radar, well calculated moves. First, the team stole David DeJesus from the perpetually inept Kansas City Royals in a move that got zero publicity. This despite the fact that before his injury, DeJesus was not just a hot trading-deadline name that ultimately didn’t get moved, but one with a solid on base percentage, adequate defense and a .309 batting average.

If you’re thinking its simply a “meh” move, one where the small-market A’s always hope to be finding treasure in someone else’s trash, this move allowed them to swing speedster Rajai Davis to the Toronto Blue Jays so early in the off season (about three days after the World Series it seemed). I wonder how many of you caught that?

While that is a tremendous move, adding much needed speed to the power-hitting Jays lineup, this article is about the A’s and the smart moves they are making, so we’ll stick to that.

Next, they extended starting pitcher Trevor Cahill and cherry-picked Hideki Matsui from the division rival (and fading) Los Angeles Angels in a shrewd move that directly makes them weaker and gives Matsui a 1 year, $4.25M deal.

The move reminded me of the Florida Marlins’ “special money.” They seem to come up with that one big player every few offseasons, one big score they think will make all the difference. In the past, it’s been Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado, and this year, Javier Vazquez, using money saved from the Dan Uggla trade.

Not only is Matsui still productive (21 HRS, 84 RBI last year), but he fits perfectly in a lineup that’s lost only Jack Cust to the irrelevant Seattle Mariners and to which Matsui is an obvious upgrade.

The move was also reminiscent of a typical Tampa Bay Rays “budget” move, like when they brought in Jose Canseco for that one stellar year or Pat Burrell, who blew up in their faces. These were veterans looking for maybe one more paycheck, only I think Matsui will be around for a couple more years, albeit on one-year deals, hopefully with Oakland.

In similar action that would make the witness-protection program envious, the team quietly rolled the dice on struggling starter Rich Harden, reuniting the once promising player with his original organization, where he made his name and had success. While it’s eerily similar to the 2009 Ben Sheets signing fiasco, it’s got to cost less than the $10M bust Sheets turned out to be.

Then the A’s filled another hole with a recognizable name, obtaining the highly coveted and versatile Josh Willingham from the Nationals in a curious move, considering Washington’s insistence to move a solid player.

2011 moves in sum, to date

In sum, the thrifty and calculating A’s have added the following in patch-work (budget) fashion:

One starting pitcher (Harden) that one might say replaces the Sheets experiment

One DH to Matsui to replace Cust (net gain)

Two outfielders in DeJesus and Willingham to replace one in Davis (thereby adding depth)

All that’s missing, one might suggest, is bullpen arms, but they seemed to do fine (ERA) last year

Here is their starting lineup (I had to look up their 1B, SS, and CF, which demonstrates how anonymous they were last year)

1B Daric Barton

2B Mark Ellis

SS Cliff Pennington

3B Kevin Kouzmanoff

DH Matsui

LF Josh Willingham

RF David DeJesus

CF Coco Crisp

Their rotation is: (didn’t know starters 2-4) 

SP Trevor Cahill (ace 18-8 last year)

SP Gio Gonzalez (15-9 last year)

SP Dallas Braden (11-14)

SP Brett Anderson (7-6 last year)

SP Harden

Divisional rivals Angels, Rangers fading, leaving it open for A’s to take

While the Red Sox and the Phillies have stolen all the headlines for their flashy moves, others like the Yankee$ and Angels have for their lack of moves.

Keep in mind, this division includes the Mariners, whom everyone is going to beat up on to the tune of 90+ losses for them again. Then there’s the fading Angels, who lost Matsui and for whom free agents apparently no longer want to sign with, leaving them a team of Kendry Morales and Torii Hunter and a bunch of nobodies. Lastly, there’s the Texas Rangers, who not only lost Cliff Lee, but even if they were to replace him with Carl Pavano, it’s a net loss overall, leaving the division wide-open for the A’s to take because they earned it with these good moves.

The Angels lost out on Carl Crawford, the #1 player they coveted. With the weather Southern California provides, the solid management of Mike Scoscia, deep-pocketed ownership of well-respected Arte Moreno and the friendship of Torii Hunter, the Angels likely would have had enough to land him in seasons past.

Not this time.

Not in a crazy offseason where we see the Nationals, Orioles, and Brewers actively pursuing big name free agents or players via trade, adding payroll to the point where they are doing more than the Yankee$, Angel$, Cardinals, Mets, or Cubs to date.

This has a hint of the 1980’s all over again, when the Brewers, A’s, and Orioles were good and the Yankees? Not so much.


Just sayin’…..

One final thought: if the Yankees somehow manage to steal the Wild card after praying that Andy Pettite comes back so they can have 3/5 of a dependable rotation (CC, Hughes, and him) minus the enigma Burnett, we are going to need the tiny A’s to have a solid season and represent the underdog small markets in the playoffs. That is, if the Chicago White Sox actually win the Central, which I have doubts about.

Information from ESPN and directly contributed to the content of this article.

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MLB Playoff Predictions 2010: Realistic Picks for First Round

In a perfect world, according to my most favorable teams they divisions would annually end something like this:

American League East: Baltimore Tampa Toronto Boston and New York

American League Central Minnesota Kansas City Detroit Chicago White Sox, Cleveland

American League West: Texas Oakland Los Angeles, Seattle

National League East: Florida, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Atlanta

National League Central: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Chicago, Houston, St. Louis

National League West: San Diego, Colorado, Arizona, San Francisco, LA Dodgers

As you can easily tell, I am a fan of small market clubs.

I as happy as I am to see Cincinnati make the playoffs after a 15 year drought (1995) and Texas after an 11 year span (1999) it was just as equally disappointing to see San Diego miss, especially at the expense of the boring, overrated Atlanta Braves who have wasted a playoff spot in every one of their last 15 appearances save for the 1995 miracle vs. almost as equally pathetic Cleveland in what I like to call the World Series from Hell.

Besides, its not like they are going to do anything anyway, so why not give San Diego a chance, we all know they could have used the extra cash from the playoff revenue.

Growing up Cincinnatti was good (1990) along with the Oakland A’s (I’d like to see a replay of that World Series with the Reds playing their role and my Minnesota Twins playing that of the A’s even if their 2010 payroll-top ten is significantly higher. Can you imagine Commissioner Selig’s face having to go to those small, cold markets? Can you imagine the complaining corporate America would be doing if their precious Yankee$ do not make it, in addition to the Phillie$ getting bounced early? This is what I am hoping for.

ALDS ESPN Yankee$ at lowly Minnesota Twins

My heart wants to say Minnesota in who cares-3, 4, 5, but the fact remains the Yankee$ are the Yankee$ and something about October just brings out the best in some people: Luis Polonia, Scott Brosius, Shane Spencer, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, not to mention Mo Rivera, Jeter, Pettite etc.

Reasons the Yankee$ will win: They have the history, they have the experience, they are the defending champions and as much as I hate them, they are who we thought they were. October is their time to shine. Last year they won the World Series their first year in their new building, somethng I am hoping the Twins can copy-if they took good notes.

Swept the Twins last year (7-0) and 3-0 in playoffs. Karma is on their side. Until they get beat, even if Twins somehow take first game or two that’s gone good enough until these spoiled elitists are gone.

Reasons they’ll lose: Wonder how long it will be before we find out A-ROID juiced in 2009? Someone’s gonna talk a decade or two from now, is my guess. He was too good to be true last year. Look how they treated (as I predicted) 2009 hero’s Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui who were both given their walking papers despite Matsui (MVP) and Damon .381 BA. Granderson is all or nothing. Pettite’s coming back from long injury, Burnett’s already out. Jeter’s having his worst year. They gotta slow down some time right? Buster Olney (Yankee homer) calls this the “most wide open American League I’ve ever seen” (yesterday’s SportsCenter). Keep telling yourself that, Yankee lover.

Reasons the Twins will win: Went 2-4 against New York this year. While that’s not much its light years ahead of last year. Also, the last time they played, the Twins won (in NY) so they have some momentum and that in the back of their minds. Also, Jason Kubel emerged as a legit Yankee$ killer having hit a Grand Slam off Rivera in the game. Also, the last time the Twins played them at home, they too won so this first game is huge.

The bad luck, jinxes, (14-46) in their past 60 head to head have to end sometime right? Why not take a page from the NBA’s Suns who had similar woes against the cow-town Spurs before finally beating them. A good friend of mine, Yankee fan, admits “this isn’t our year” and “the Yankees aren’t going to do anything, they’re hurt”. I’d like to believe him but until the Twins prove me wrong, they get what they deserve.

Yankee-cowards Morneau, Perkins, and Nathan who I bashed last year relentlessly won’t play this year giving me hope. The same hope that newcomers Hudson, Thome, Capps, and Fuentes don’t carry that putrid Yankee$ stink with them like the latter three did. Good riddance. Thank god they moved on from crybaby Morneau. Get over it already and come back next year.

Reasons they’ll lose (see reasons Yankees will win) also, I dont like the Twins hosting. Granted the last time they hosted a series they won (2002) but nothing since. These aint the A’s. Also, when you are a road team you are hoping for a 1:1 split. Yankee$ should at least do that, we all know Twins won’t win 1st two or ESPN will hype-rventilate. I really wish the Twins were going to the Bronx 1st. Less pressure since you aren’t defending home field trying to take at least one.

In the end I expect a SOBathia gem 2-0 shutout of the Twins at home in game 1, followed by the usual 3-1 heart-breaker that we saw last year setting the stage for a Yankee$ $weep in New York as always. Petitte is automatic in game 2. Yankee fans want us to think they are the underdogs (0-3 all time as a Wild Card) but there is a reason SOBathia is their ace and Phil Hughes went 18-8. I ain’t buying it until I see it. Too many years of expections so why have any?

Yankee$ in three.

Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Reasons Texas will win: At first I gave them no chance due to their lack of playoff experience. Still Lee’s good for at least a win right? Bobby Valentine already picked them in 4 and Chris Singleton thinks they can come out of the AL although he’s the only one that crazy so far although I could live with it if and when my Twins lose. They’ve got the hitting we know that.

Reasons they’ll lose: Read a stat that Texas is 0-12 against the rest of the AL competition. Also, only one of the American League teams (Atlanta in the NL) to have a losing road record. You get the feeling like the Reds of the NL, they are simply happy to finally be here after years being out, never mind the fact they’ve never won a playoff series in their history. The only active team to say that. Lots  of reasons to not like them, still its good to see them back, can’t say that enough. Rusty Greer, Roger Pavlik, Mickey Tettleton, Johnny Oates, Dean Palmer, guys I grew up watching the last time they made the playoffs would all be proud.

Reasons Tampa will win: Forget their bandwagon home crowd full of converted Red Sox fans who just plain hate New York, or the transplants, or the fake fans who only started following the team in 2008. The team makes Tropi-crapa field their home and use it to their advantage. Honestly the atmosphere is great there. I’ve been there as a pseudo Rays “fan” (until Baltimore gets back). They have the experience. Many see this as a final run with Rafael Soriano, Carl Crawford, and Carlos Pena although I think only Crawford will depart. The Rays if they lose are still going to be a threat in 2011.

Reasons they’ll lose: Overconfidence. Underestimating their competition. James Shields and his crap 5.18 ERA, Jeff Neimann fading down the stretch (largely due to injury)Matt Garza can’t possibly duplicate 2008 can he? They won’t be able to sneak up on anyone this time. 27th in hitting (BA) has to come into play at some point, right? Pressure to keep Crawford around a bit longer.

Rays in 4 (although nothing would surprise me and if the Twins actually win (hell freezes over) I want to play Texas, so Go Rangers, conditional o the Twins winning, otherwise, go Rays! Easily the x-factor series of the 1st round (best one). Could see several games going into extra innings.

NLDS Atlanta Braves vs. San Francisco Giants

You know the saying “If you don’t have anything nice to say….” That’s how I feel about the Braves who I still don’t forgive them for wasting all those oppotunities in the ’90s and denying other teams Pittsburgh chances to do something which may have created parity.

Forget the fact Atlanta is either one big ghetto (depending on where you are) or a cosmopolitan city full of snobbish transplants and “old money” and there are a lot of reasons to hate Atlanta as I do. Overrated Bobby Cox, the damn annoying “chop” that still rings in my ears having to suffer many an October with that droning. Won’t matter though, they won’t be staying long.

Reasons Atlanta will win: Annoying rallying around Bobby Cox and his impending retirement, same for Chipper Jones.  They can’t choke every time they are in. New faces immune to 1990s failures.

Reasons Atlanta will lose: Typical loser franchise come October. Seriously, 14 division titles should have got the Yankee$ of the NL at least 3-4 rings. They went 1/5 in the Fall Classic with my Twins starting them out in the right foot. In 2006 28,000 fans showed up for game 1 of the NLDS. It was explained that “In Atlanta you expect to make it past the first round”.

Tickets were going for $6 on StubHub for this team of fickle followers. I know-I checked. If there is an excuse in the book for failure, this team, this city, and their blind-loyal announce teams will find it. 0/4 in NLDS since 2001. I can’t wait until they go away. Remember the Padres should be the Giants rally cry!

Reasons the Giants will win: (see reasons Atlanta will lose, above!) Seriously, just by playing this annual disappointment, they got the luck of the draw. Can throw Tiny Tim (Lincecum) twice if they actually have to). Have momentum now.

Reasons they’ll lose: Tim can’t do it all. New generation of Braves fans, yet to be disillusioned could bring a new 1991-like excitement. Braves have to snap jinx sometime right? Honestly, this is the least intriguing series by far of the first round and I really don’t care for either team so I’m done.

Giants in 5 (Braves always make ’em interesting)

Cincinnati Reds vs. Philidelphia Phillies

In 2008 when the Phillies made the playoffs it was cool. When they won the World Series that year, while I wanted the Rays, I felt good for the city. Now its just getting old. Like Boston fans of 2004 and 2007 they act like its their birthright. Phily fans are lame in general but it was fun when they were just happy to be in the playoffs (2007) or 1993 which I have fond memories of.

Reasons the Phillies will win: ESPN wants them to. Seriously, get ready to hear the Halladay-Oswalt-Hamels love fest ESPN Bias. Playoff experience. Embarrassing whiffle ball park that benefits the home team. Just remember Phillies fans, I know when you sucked. Do you?

Reasons they’ll lose: Maybe the Reds have a 2008 small-market mentality like the Rays did. Maybe the Reds will sneak up on them and steal an early game or two swinging the series. Too many stars and too much expectations? Seriously, that’s all I got until the Reds show me something.

Reasons the Reds will win: At the risk of repeating, maybe they can sneak up on someone seeing how they should have no pressure having no experience. Chapman could be this year’s David Price x-factor, rookie phenom. Still seems like a team just happy to be there, despite the fact I picked them as a pre-season Wild Card.

Reasons they’ll lose: Just repeating the same things, so I’ll refain, Prove me wrong, Reds, I want to play you in the Series!

Phillies in THREE (see 2008 Brewers) Just happy to be there.

Stay tuned for next round picks when it gets closer.

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Can Minnesota Twins Win the World Series?

The 2009 New York Yankees set the template.

Open a brand-new ballpark and immediately win a World Series. Could the current, first place Minnesota Twins, do just that? They are, after all, unsurprisingly in first place.

Let’s see how they’re better than last year.

As long as they don’t play their nemesis, the New York Yankee$, who obviously have their number winning 44 of the past 60 meetings, while beating them every time in the playoffs, they should be okay.

Right now, their playoff rivals would be the Tampa Bay Rays, who don’t scare me despite their pitching, or the untested Texas Rangers, who I have a feeling will just be happy to be there after a long, 11-year absence.

Next, three of the four Twins’ weaknesses in the playoffs to those big, bad Yankees—Justin Morneau, Glen Perkins, and Joe Nathan (along with Jesse Crain) likely wouldn’t even face them anyway, therefore increasing our chances. We might have a shot if Crain or Guerrier (2-7) don’t see the field.

That is why we got Capps, who may be the X-factor. Don’t forget he was hidden in the National League where the Yankees didn’t have a lot of chances to hit him around.

For all you Twins fans hoping and praying Morneau gets over his concussion and comes back, I say, forget about it. Don’t count on it. If you are, you’re only setting yourself up to be hurt when he doesn’t come back.

I say, don’t shut him down for the season, since we could always use him in the ALCS vs Texas or Tampa, but just move on as if he’s not coming back. Similar to what the Jets are doing with Darrelle Revis.

Not only do we not need him, as we’re 22-7 in the games he’s missed, but he’s a detriment when he doesn’t show up in New York for those crucial playoff runs. Michael Cuddyer is more than capable of playing first base since he gets the opportunity to do so when Morneau goes down each year with an injury.

Last year, it was his back. This year, it’s his head. Next year will be an elbow.

Is there any way we can sign Morneau to an April-July contract since that’s basically all he’s good for? It seems every year, the cycle is April slump, May-June hot, July hot, then he gets hurt. August-September is anyone’s guess.

Morneau hurt? Check.

Cuddyer filling in admirably? Check.

Twins in first place? check.

It’s almost like those logical equations in philosophy: Given that Justin Morneau is hurt, and given that Michael Cuddyer is playing first base, therefore, the Minnesota Twins must be in first place and in a pennant race.


Other Reasons for Optimism

Last year, the 2009 Twins that went belly up to the Yankee$ had those four playoff chokers on their postseason roster, but didn’t have Orlando Hudson or Jim Thome. Both not only bring proven veteran leadership, but also better playoff experience and success.

While Thome and Hudson may only have career averages of .222 and .250 in the playoffs, I’d take either of them over Alexi Casilla and Morneau as was the case last year.

Finally, not only did the Twins actually go 2-4 vs the Yankee$ this year, but Jason Kubel’s one HR, three hits, and four RBI in Yankee Stadium with a .375 BA will be huge, given he now has confidence knowing he can break the hex. He hit a whopping .467 in 15 at-bats vs the Yankees.

Don’t forget that while 2-4 may not seem like much, it is. It proves we can win after going 0-10 vs New York last year, but more importantly, in taking the last game of each series in New York and at home, we can feel confident knowing the last time we played them in each venue, we won and will hopefully build off that momentum.


Yankee Fans Sure to Note the Pitching Disparity

In addition to the Yankees notable All-Star-at-every-position continual theme, greaser Yankee fans will note that the hypothetical pitching matchups don’t scare them.

Game One (in New York given they’ll get the top seed): Carl Pavano, 15-7, 3.27 vs. CC Sabathia, 15-5, 3.14.

Game Two: Francisco Liriano, 11-7, 3.26 vs. Andy Pettitte, 11-2, 2.88. I’d use Nick Blackburn here as he’s the only one I’m confident can go into New York and come out in the seventh with a 1-1 tie as he’s done it before. Big Game Nick is what they should be calling him.

Game Three: (MPLS) baby-faced Scott Baker, 10-9, 4.76 vs. AJ Burnett, 9-10, 4.66.

Baker has a 4.09 ERA this year vs. New York, and they are sure to salivate over that 4.76 ERA.

Pettitte is Mr. Automatic when it comes to “must win” as he’s done it his whole career.

Even if we get a miracle and get Game One vs. NY which we did in both 2003 and 2004, where we were swept the rest of both series thanks in large part to Pettitte, he’s so automatic that we’ll have a tough road.

Think I’m jumping the gun in writing this in August? Everything is just so eerily similar to last year. The Tigers are done having went 9-22 since the All-Star break with three losing streaks of four games or more already.

The Sox? Heh, they’re predictably falling apart and even if we take two of three tomorrow, we still gain a game on them to go up four, and should we lose the series by winning only one, they gain two and still leave town down a game.  Don’t worry about a sweep. At 35-20 at home, that ain’t happening.

Maybe we won’t run into New York. Maybe the Rays or Texas will take care of our business for us and set up a Minnesota-Texas or Minnesota-Tampa “small market” ALCS from Hell for Major League Baseball.

I know the Twins, with a $96M payroll that ranks top 10 aren’t supposed to be considered “small market” anymore, but until they get by the Yankee$, why shouldn’t we continue to think of them as such?

If the playoffs started today, the Yankees (72-45, .615) would play the Twins (68-50, .576) since the Rays (71-46, .607) would be the Wild Card and cannot, because of Major League Baseball’s stupid rule, play a division rival in the opening round. They should take a page from, I don’t know, every other sport and allow this.

As Twins fans, we should be pulling for the current second seed Rangers (67-49, .578) to start losing so we can leap over them in the standings, and as a result take our chances vs Tampa Bay, who we match up better with, since the league won’t allow the matchup I really want against Texas.

If it weren’t for the damn Yankees, I’d be saying anything is possible with the lackluster Rangers and Rays in the playoffs, and would expect us to make it to the World Series. But until someone knocks New York out, it’s hard to get excited knowing our two differing histories.

Let’s hope we took good notes from last year.

Statistics and information from directly contributed to the content of this article.

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2010: Part II Season-Long Series-a Look at the Lost Art of Stolen Bases

Okay so I’m a little late with Part II of my season-long look into the lost art of the stolen base. You can read part I here as a template for what future articles in this series will look like (if you are a new reader of mine). For those that aren’t, yes it’s the same format.

In a league where I’d like to see a 100-steal man, that is no longer possible as 80 has become the new 100 in terms of unattainable records. No one’s stolen even that many since Vince Coleman’s 81 in 1988 so why not make that the new standard, seeing how it likely won’t be reached anyway.

At the current pace, this season unfortunately will hold true to form.

As of June 1 here were the top five league leaders:

1. Rajai Davis (pictured) Oakland A’s.

Stole 12 bases in 14 attempts (85.7 percent) for the month of May. His season total to date is 22 as he stole 10 bases in April, and he’s currently on pace for 69 for the season. When you lead the league in steals, you get your picture in the article.

Last month in was Juan Pierre on the Sox page, this month maybe Athletics fans will come to know the series I’ve come to write.

April: 10/10

May: 12/14

June: ???

With any player you’d obviously like to see him increase his base steals each month as the season goes on. So far, Davis is not disappointing in that regard. In fact, if history is any indication Davis should heat up (no pun intended), this summer as he stole 15 bases last August and 11 in September! In a league without a Coleman this era, it appears he’s the best we got.

2. Juan Pierre, Chicago White Sox

Stole 10 bases in 11 attempts in May. His season total is 22 and he’s on pace for 67 for the season.

April: 9/12

May: 10/11

June: ????

Like Davis, Pierre’s numbers are increasing. However, they are misleading as the league leader after April only stole one base after May 15-exactly half the month.

This means that he stole nine bases in the team’s first 13 games which would have (in theory) put him on pace to steal a very eerie Carl Crawford-esque 26 steals in May, similar to how Crawford stole 21 last May.

When you look at it in that perspective, the always frustrating Pierre simply faded away which he has a history of being a nice player, but despite the speed and ability simply desires to be “good enough” when “great” could be a real possibility. Thus, the story of his career.

3. Brett Gardener, New York Yankees

My pick for “first to fade away” did not disappoint in May only swiping eight bases in 11 attempts, giving him 19 for the season on pace for 57.

As the Yankees continue to improve in the standings, expect him to fade away as getting on base and scoring runs become more important to the team that simply moving up 90 feet.

April: 10/11

May: 8/11

June: ????

Gardner’s numbers are all ready going down. Expect more of the same as he’s deemed “too valuable” and ” versatile” to risk injury.

4. Michael Bourn, Houston Astros

Stole eight bases in 12 attempts in May, giving him 18 for the season and putting him on pace for 54.

April: 9/11

May: 8/12

June: ????

Bourn’s numbers are startlingly going down for a player that was steadily improving last summer in this fashion. Not surprisingly his league ranking dropped from third to fourth. For a team going nowhere, why isn’t he running more with nothing to lose?

5. Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers

Finally a wild card to the discussion! The super-youthful (21) Andrus is easily the most promising of the stolen base fraternity (to date) having stole 11 bases in 16 attempts in May.

April: 7/10

May: 11/16

June: ????

Unlike Gardner his numbers are going up, and outside Davis, no one stole more bases in May than Andrus. Only concern is he may have a bit of Nyger Morgan-like carelessness on the base paths already getting caught eight times on the season in only 26 attempts (69 percent).

In a league that prides itself on an 80 percent target rate, 69 percent just won’t cut it. Still, you have to like his aggressiveness and the fact that his team (29-25) is still in first place, (albeit in a very weak division) despite his struggles.

This is a classic case of having to take the bad with the good and Andrus is only going to get better. In fact, last season I predicted he would soon be a league leader in my final article in the 2009 season-long look and had him pegged for 50.

Well, there you have it. Check back around July 1 for the latest installment into the lost art of the stolen base with updates and projections and what it all means.

Statistics and information from and Wikipedia directly contributed to the content in this article.

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It’s Back! Analyzing the Stolen Base: A Season Long Look Into The Art

Last year, you might recall I had a season-long series on the art of the stolen base and whether or not we’ll ever see a 100-steal man again.

While I have my doubts, I will however be continuing that monthly column update with yearly totals so look for that at the beginning of each month for the rest of the season.

With that here is the first installment of 2010:

The top-five base stealers as of May 1, 2010 were:


1. Brett Gardner, New York Yankees


Stole 10 bases in 11 attempts in April for a team that outside of the brief Rickey Henderson years, historically doesn’t emphasize or promote base stealing.

Based on that fact and 100 years of evidence, expect Gardner, while young and exciting, to taper off to around 40 steals by year’s end as the Yankees philosophy has always been to favor power over speed and what is called “small ball”, which has to be seen as an insult to the mighty Yankees.

10 steals in 11 attempts through 23 games (15-8 team record). On pace for 73.


2. Rajai Davis, Oakland Athletics


Like Bourn before him, Davis came on very strong late last year stealing 15 of 18 in August and 11 of 14 in September, to finish fifth in Major League Baseball.

When you consider that the A’s have a history of letting their players run, and the fact Davis lasted this long in Oakland which I had doubted (see previous link) then you have to like his chances this year. Finally, 26 of his final 32 being successful 81 percent is just about his season average from last year (77%), suggesting he hasn’t lost a step.

10 bases in 10 attempts in April through 25 games (13-12 team record). On pace for 66.


3. Michael Bourn, Houston Astros


On a team with not much to cheer for, Bourn will be a season-long bright spot. 

The man not only stole a career best 61 bags last year but got better as the season went on. That’s promising for this year when you consider last year at this time he had six in April.

Stole 9 bases in 11 attempts in April through 23 games (8-15 team record). On pace for 71.


4. Juan Pierre, Chicago White Sox


Pierre hasn’t seen this kind of speed since stealing a career high 64, in 2007 with the L.A. Dodgers, who, like the White Sox are a historically pedestrian team.

Still, if Pierre can stay healthy, productive, and be in the Sox lineup, he should do fine. If the team continues to struggle he could he dealt for help so his future production may have to be readjusted based on his new team’s philosophy.

But for now, sit back and watch him run.

Stole 9 bases in 12 attempts in April through 24 games (10-14 team record). On pace for 87.


5. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates


We saw Nyger Morgan accidentally do too well in the Steel City, and thus he forced his way out of town in a never-ending mill of prospect exchange.

While that fate seems inevitable for the young (23), exciting, and affordable McCutchen, right now he’s all the perpetual cellar-dwelling Pirates have.

Enjoy him while you can Pirates fans…both of you. That’s all I have to say.

Stole 10 bases in 12 attempts in April through 24 games (10-14 team record) on pace for 65.


There you have it, the first installment of the 2010 “Stolen Base series”.

Note the new faces. We’ll have to see how long they stick around. Early trends show while it will be a ‘slow’ year on the base paths.

Twenty players currently have 6 steals or more and thus, are on pace for over 50 steals! (52 to be exact).

So while the quantity of exceptional runners has gone down, allowing them to separate from the pack like in most years, the quantity of runners in general hoping to “keep up” has gone up creating even more new faces of intrigue as we try and guess who may take over the torch of this lost art.

Be sure to check back around June 1, and the first of every month, for a continuation on this season-long look into this lost art, one of my favorite in baseball, and all of professional sports.


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