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2011 MLB Predictions: Are Red Sox, Phillies Destined for October Rendezvous?

All 30 teams set out with the same goal, but in the end, only one team can achieve it.

Which begs the question; which team will it be?

The revamped Red Sox or the pitching-rich Phillies? Or will the Yankees pounce from the weeds to win a 28th Title? Will the Rangers avenge their loss in the Series last year, or will the Giants repeat?

How it all plays out is anyone’s guess. I’ve taken a shot in the dark and tried to forecast what happens this October.

Before I get to my predictions for the postseason, I’ll fill you in to how I see the pennant race playing out.

In the American League, the Boston Red Sox will be as good as advertised, winning the most games in baseball and the AL East. In the ALDS, they’ll match up with the Detroit Tigers, who hold off the Minnesota Twins to win the AL Central. 

White Boston hogged the headlines this past Winter, the New York Yankees still have way too much talent to not be in the playoff picture; they’ll win the AL Wild Card. They’ll play the Oakland A’s, who win the AL West on the strength of their young rotation and a rejuvenated lineup.

In the National League, the Phillies overcome some injuries and win the most games in the senior circuit behind their much hyped rotation. Pitching will reign supreme in the NL Central as well as the Milwaukee Brewers will usurp the Cincinnati Reds to advance to the postseason.

In the postseason, the Brewers will take on the NL West champions, the Colorado Rockies. While Colorado will rise to the top of the NL West, the defending champion San Francisco Giants will manage to get in via the wild card and take on Philadelphia.

Please leave me some feedback and check out my awards predictions as well. Happy Opening Day everybody.

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AL West Preview: Resurgent Angels, A’s Look to Dethrone AL Champion Rangers

After years of the Mike Scioscia Angels maintaining a stranglehold on the AL West, things finally came together for the Texas Rangers in 2010, as they overcame their rivals from California on their way to their very first American League pennant.

Looking to maintain their place atop the division, the Rangers were quite active this Winter. Though key midseason acquisition Cliff Lee departed for Philadelphia, Jon Daniels was able to bring in Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, Brandon Webb, and Arthur Rhodes.

Despite these moves, the Rangers are not the most improved team in the division. That distinction belongs to Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s. With a deep, young rotation in place, Beane fine-tuned the team’s lineup and bullpen, adding Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Grant Balfour, and Brian Fuentes in hopes of building on a second place finish in 2010.

Though many thought they’d be movers and shakers this Winter, the Angels swung and missed in all of their initial attempts to bolster their roster, spurring a desperate Tony Reagins to trade for the talented yet overpaid Vernon Wells. In light of an incredibly disappointing off season, the Angels will look to climb back to the top behind a healthy Kendrys Morales and a full season with Dan Haren.

Forced to watch their spending after a horrific 2010 season, Jack Zduriencik and the Seattle Mariners were limited to minor moves, Jack Cust and Miguel Olivo being their most noteworthy pickups. Better hitting and an infusion of youth will be key to the M’s recovering from their second 100 loss season in two years.

Despite being the only division in baseball without at least five teams, there’s no shortage of contenders in the AL West. Even with Lee gone, the Rangers have a very real shot at repeating as division champions. That said, there’s certainly a case to be made for the A’s and Angels. No one is giving them a chance, but the Mariners have surprised before.

Whereas there’s a clear cut favorite in most of the other divisions, that’s not the case in the AL West, and it should make for a captivating race in 2011.

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MLB Power Rankings: Miguel Cabrera and the 25 Best Players in the AL Central

Even with the exodus of such players as C.C. Sabathia, Curtis Granderson, and Zack Greinke the past few seasons, the AL Central certainly has no shortage of talent. Some of those star players simply don’t get the attention they would playing in either of the Eastern divisions.

This division has sorely lacked parity the past few seasons, with a sizable gap existing between the top three teams and the bottom two, and this list reflects that. Whereas the Tigers, Twins, and White Sox combine for 20 representatives on the list, the Indians and Royals combine for just 5.

Before we get started, two star players not on the list who I admittedly had no idea where to place on this list given their rash of injuries recently; Cleveland’s Grady Sizemore and Chicago’s Jake Peavy. Both obviously have the talent to rank on the list; it’s hard to know exactly where they stand given the trouble they’ve had staying on the field lately.

Without further ado, the best players in the AL Central. Enjoy.

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MLB Hot Stove: Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford Among 20 Best Moves Of Offseason

With shocking free agent signings, blockbuster deals, and no shortage of clear-cut winners and losers, the 2010 off-season certainly hasn’t lacked intrigue.

With most of the big-name free agents off the board and the trade market slowing down, now is a good time to take a look at the best moves of the off season up to this point.

In evaluating these moves, I gave as much consideration to the impact of the move on the team’s chances as I did that player’s cost in either dollars or players.

In other words, I won’t dwell on a team overpaying for a player if it greatly improves their chances next season. Likewise, I’ll be sure to recognize bargain signings even by teams that figure to have a hard time competing next season.

As Jayson Werth’s deal with Washington does not put the Nationals over the top and was a severe overpay, that is one move you won’t find on this list.

Please leave me some feedback and check out my other articles if you like this piece. Enjoy!

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Victor Martinez a Start, but Detroit Tigers Are Still a Bat and a Starter Short

One of the orchestrators of the biggest deal of both the 2007 and 2009 winter meetings, many were shocked not to hear from Dave Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers at the meetings this past week.

The reason they were quiet is simple: even with spring training more than two months away, they’ve already accomplished quite a bit thus far this offseason. Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta were brought back to secure the left side of the infield, and Joaquin Benoit was signed to set up for Jose Valverde (albeit at an absurd price tag).

Undoubtedly though, the prize of the team’s offseason thus far is Victor Martinez. A lifetime .300 hitter and four-time All-Star, Martinez should be a major upgrade over both Johnny Damon (who got on base but hit for virtually no power) in the DH spot, and Gerald Laird (who brought literally nothing to the table offensively) as the backup catcher.

It’s been a productive offseason so far for Dombrowski and the Tigers. Does that mean they’re done for the winter? Not if they expect to improve on their third-place finish from 2010.

If the Tigers are going to win the AL Central next season, they still need a right fielder who can hit in the middle of the order and a quality starting pitcher.

As far as right field goes, the solution is right in front of Dombrowski’s eyes. Finding another starter is far more complicated.

As a proven RBI guy who can burn opposing teams for pitching around Cabrera and a switch-hitter who can balance the lineup, it makes the most sense for Victor Martinez to hit fifth in Detroit’s order. As such, they still need an all-around hitter who can hit third. Looking at the team’s depth chart, it makes the most sense for that player to be a right fielder.

Some writers and fans have wondered if the team will forgo adding another outfielder, and give the job to Brennan Boesch or Casper Wells. If this happens, I’m going to automatically pencil the Tigers in for another third-place finish in 2011.

Call me harsh but it’s my belief that Boesch was so awful after the All-Star break (.163 AVG, two HR, .459 OPS in 221 AB), there’s no way he should even be in the conversation as far as right field is concerned. Growing pains are one thing; looking absolutely hopeless at the plate for nearly three months is something else.

Nothing in Boesch’s minor-league track record (.753 OPS in 453 minor league games) suggests he can be counted on to regain his pre-All-Star break form next season and maintain it over the course of a full season. All things considered, I think it’s far more likely the first half of Boesch’s 2010 was the fluke, not the second half. The Tigers are in serious trouble if they’re expecting him to be their everyday right fielder in 2011.

I’m a far bigger fan of Wells, and I think he should be ready to at least be the team’s fourth outfielder. He impressed in limited playing time in 2010 and unlike Boesch, is an asset in the field and capable of playing all three outfield spots. There’s a lot to like about his game.

Bottom line: While a better option than Boesch, Wells is an unproven commodity. The Tigers lineup is already littered with question marks. How much will Austin Jackson regress? Will Alex Avila keep making strides? Is Scott Sizemore or Will Rhymes a viable Major League second baseman? What, if anything, can be expected of Carlos Guillen?

As of right now, aside from Boesch and Wells, the Tigers’ best options to accompany Cabrera and Martinez in the 3-4-5 hole are Guillen (who hasn’t played a full season since 2007) and Ryan Raburn (who would be best utilized hitting either second or sixth in the order).

The Tigers are counting on enough young players as is. They cannot entrust both right field and a spot in the middle of the order to two players with fewer than 600 career AB between them.

Fortunately, the solution here couldn’t be more obvious: re-sign Magglio Ordonez.

After the Martinez signing, some wondered if the Tigers still had room for Ordonez. Not only do they still have room for him, they need him.

It’s really a shame his 2010 season was cut short by an ankle fracture, because it really looked as though Ordonez had rediscovered his 2006-2008 form after a rough season in 2009. In 323 AB, Ordonez posted a .303/.378/.474 batting line with 12 HR and 59 RBI.

When he, Cabrera and Boesch were producing this summer, the Tigers looked like legitimate contenders in the AL Central. With Martinez taking the place of Boesch, the Tigers could post a very potent middle of the order in 2011 if Ordonez is retained.

A great pure hitter with decent power who doesn’t strike out often, Ordonez is a prototypical No. 3 hitter. Making the match even more logical is that Ordonez himself has stated his first choice is to stay in Detroit, and it’s easy to see why. He’s comfortable there, the fans adore him and four fellow Venezuelans (Cabrera, Martinez, Guillen, Armando Galarraga) are on the team’s roster.

The biggest roadblock to a reunion between the Tigers and Ordonez is his agent, Scott Boras. Quick negotiations are hardly Boras’ cup of tea, and it is said he is seeking at least a two-year, $20M contract for Ordonez.

If Boras is expecting much more than that, he’s delusional. Two years at $20M might be too much given Ordonez’ recent ankle injury and the fact that he turns 37 in less than a month. On the other hand, perhaps the two-year demand is a good thing for the Tigers; other teams less familiar with Ordonez might be more hesitant to offer a second year.

Bottom line: The Tigers can’t afford to split hairs as far as salary goes. Even if they signed Ordonez at an annual rate of $10M, the 2011 Opening Day payroll would still fall short of $100M.

A reunion between Ordonez and the Tigers is too good a fit for all sides to not eventually happen. No team needs him more than Detroit and as such, no team should be more willing to give him what he wants salary-wise. In the end, I do eventually see him re-signing with the Tigers for something in the neighborhood of two years and $20M.

Assuming Ordonez is re-signed, I don’t expect the Tigers to have much trouble scoring runs next year.

Preventing runs? That’s another story.

I could be in the minority on this but I believe that after right field, the team’s most pressing need is a quality mid-rotation starter.

In Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, the Tigers have a dynamite one-two punch, the best in the AL Central I’d argue. Some have argued they have the best front three in the division, which I think is ludicrous.

Why the difference in opinion? The answer is the amount of faith I have in Rick Porcello.

While I shake my head and laugh at those foolish enough to think the Tigers ruined him in bringing him to the majors so soon, I’m taking an “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach with Porcello. Others are convinced he’ll improve in 2011. He struggled too mightily in 2010 (4.92 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, .288 BAA) for me to assume as much.

Even if Porcello gets back to his 2009 form, when he was the team’s third starter and they nearly won the division, uncertainty still surrounds the back end of the team’s rotation.

I think moving Phil Coke (he of one major-league start) from the bullpen (where he was very solid in 2010) to the rotation and expecting him to be the fourth starter is, as far as competing in 2011 goes, incredibly risky.

If Dombrowski and Jim Leyland have seen enough to believe said transition will be smooth and Coke will be a dependable starter, fine. I as a fan have no choice but to take an “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach here as well. Coke has good stuff and mound presence but without a track record as a major-league starter, I just cannot assume that will equal success.

As for the fifth spot in the rotation, the Tigers are content to allow Armando Galarraga and Andy Oliver to duke it out for that spot, which I have no problem with. As a Tiger fan, I’d simply feel a lot more comfortable if Coke was a part of that competition, rather than being given a spot outright.

While I’m not comfortable with what the Tigers have in the rotation beyond the top two, I understand the Tigers’ desire to solve this dilemma from within. There is no clear answer to this problem either on the free-agent market or the trade market.

Before you ask, Cliff Lee is not an option, as Dombrowski has said. He is a risk they cannot afford to take. The only justification for giving a pitcher a contract that pays him over $20M in his late 30s is if you win a World Series. I’m not comfortable tying the success of an $140-160M contract to whether or not the team wins a World Series.

Furthermore, the Tigers don’t need Cliff Lee. They already have an ace (Verlander), another pitcher who has all the makings of one (Scherzer), and yet another pitcher described as having ace-potential who is still young enough to fulfill that potential (Porcello).

I’m not too keen on giving Carl Pavano a three-year contract and forking over a draft pick to the Twins (something that has second-guessing written all over it) either. After Lee and Pavano, the free-agent market thins out pretty quickly as far as dependable starters go. The two pitchers I thought were the best fit for the Tigers prior to the offseason, Ted Lilly and Jorge De La Rosa, are off the market.

Even given that the Royals have said they will not trade Zack Greinke within the AL Central, the trade market offers some intriguing possibilities, none more so than Tampa Bay‘s Matt Garza. The Tigers got a first-hand look at his ability back in July when he no-hit them. With a front three of Verlander, Garza and Scherzer, it would be hard not to like the Tigers’ chances going into 2011.

The drawback is what it would take to acquire him, as the Rays need relievers and would be in a position to require Ryan Perry or Daniel Schlereth as part of the return package. The Tigers would fill a spot in the rotation, but simply create another hole in the bullpen.

Florida‘s Ricky Nolasco is another option, as he is due a raise through arbitration and the Marlins seldom hesitate to move a player when he’s about to get more expensive. He wouldn’t come cheap either though, and many believe he and the Marlins will eventually come to an agreement on a new contract.

In a perfect world, the Tigers would add a pitcher who profiles at least as a No. 3 starter. Finding a pitcher of that caliber might just be so hard that they’ll have to count on Rick Porcello to step up. That said, even if it’s not a headline-grabbing move, they must at least add a pitcher who can compete with Galarraga and Oliver for a spot in the rotation.

The only pitcher the Tigers have been linked to thus far this offseason, Chicago’s Tom Gorzelanny, fits that bill. A 28-year-old lefty who’s had some success with the Pirates and Cubs, Gorzelanny wouldn’t be a sexy pick, but Dombrowski could certainly do worse. In the event that Coke and Galarraga locked down spots in the rotation, he could be moved to a long relief role (a role suddenly vacated with Eddie Bonine and Zach Miner both gone).

Bottom line: The Tigers seriously lack rotation depth at the moment. Whether they trade for Gorzelanny, someone else or sign a free agent, it’s an issue that must be addressed by Opening Day.

There is a sense among Tigers fans that after a few disappointing seasons, things may finally come together in 2011 and the team can win its first division title since 1987. That hope is not unfounded; there are many reasons to feel good about the team heading into next season.

For that hope to be realized though, the Tigers still must add a right fielder who can hit in the middle of the order and a starter who at least improves the club’s pitching depth. Whereas bringing back Magglio Ordonez is the obvious answer in right field, there is no clear-cut solution to the rotation issue.

Dave Dombrowski still has plenty of time to figure it all out. With a couple shrewd moves, 2011 might just be a special year in Motown.

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MLB Hot Stove: Where Are Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Other Free Agents Headed?

More so than any other sport, baseball is truly an all year event. The World Series ends, and we get treated to about four months of rumors, speculation, blockbuster signings and trades, and unheralded moves that pay major dividends down the road.

While this year’s free agent class is obviously lacking in depth, there are a few marquee talents headlining the group, such as Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, and Jayson Werth. Additionally, a few future Hall of Famers near the end of the road (Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome) may be available at bargain prices.

I enjoy speculation as much as anyone and have taken a stab at predicting where some of the cream of this year’s crop will be suiting up next season.

Most of the contract guesses are a shot in the dark. How much each player gets often depends on how soon they sign, and it’s hard to guess who will sign when.

If you like this piece, please become a fan and give some of my other work a look. Enjoy!

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The 100 Best Players in Baseball Today (Part 5: No. 20-1)

Numbers 40-21

40. Kevin Youkilis

39. Chris Carpenter

38. Ichiro Suzuki

37. Jayson Werth

36. Jon Lester

35. Justin Morneau

34. David Price

33. Dustin Pedroia

32. Adrian Gonzalez

31. Ubaldo Jimenez

30. Ryan Howard

29. David Wright

28. Mariano Rivera

27. Prince Fielder

26. Josh Johnson

25. Carlos Gonzalez

24. Matt Holliday

23. Justin Verlander

22. Ryan Zimmerman

21. Ian Kinsler

Thank you all for reading. Without further ado, here’s the final part of the series. Enjoy.

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MLB Power Rankings: The 100 Best Players in Baseball Today (Part 2)

Numbers 100-81


100. Heath Bell

99. Brian Roberts

98. Chris Young

97. John Danks

96. Ted Lilly

95. Magglio Ordonez

94. C.J. Wilson

93. Buster Posey

92. David Ortiz

91. Andy Pettitte

90. Chad Billingsley

89. Adrian Beltre

88. Shaun Marcum

87. Joakim Soria

86. Delmon Young

85. Nick Swisher

84. Tommy Hanson

83. Paul Konerko

82. Brandon Phillips

81. Trevor Cahill


Here’s Part 2…

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2010 MLB Month In Review: May

25 Thoughts and Observations on May


1. To call this season “’68 redux” may be doing it a disservice. After all, only one perfect game was thrown that year; we saw two this past month. I suppose A-Rod can’t question Dallas Braden’s credentials any more. As for Halladay, nothing he does surprises me. Every time he takes the mound, we’re truly witnessing greatness.

2. His first name could be Bob or Tom, and America would still know Ubaldo Jimenez’s name after the month he just had. He started May with an ERA of 0.79, and ends it at 0.78.

3. 2009’s equivalent of Jimenez, Zack Greinke, continues to be let down by his offense. Despite 5 quality starts in 6 May outings, he lost four of those games while only winning one.

4. You have to give the Braves, Red Sox, and Dodgers a ton of credit for turning their seasons around.

5. Halladay’s perfecto aside, what a forgettable last 10 days its been for the 2nd place Phillies. That they have been shut out in 5 of their last 9 games, never scoring more than 3 runs in any of those games, is nothing short of astonishing.

6. R.I.P. Ernie Harwell, Robin Roberts, and Jose Lima.

7. Starlin Castro knows how to make an entrance.

8. Whether he was giving it all or not, Hanley Ramirez lost all credibility when he essentially said that Fredi Gonzalez doesn’t know what hustle is because he never played in the majors. That said, the situation could’ve been a lot worse so props to everyone with the Marlins for not fanning the flames.

9. Part of me wants to say that the Kendry Morales injury is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, it’s really not surprising given how extravagant end-of-game celebrations have become.

10. How Charlie Morton (1-9, 9.35 ERA) was in the majors up until he was placed on the DL a few days ago is beyond me.

11. It seems the Blue Jays knew what they were doing when they brought back Cito Gaston and Gene Tenace. Under their watch, Aaron Hill has blossomed, Vernon Wells has risen from the dead, and Jose Bautista and Alex Gonzalez are having career years.

12. Andre Ethier is a beast. Enough said.

13. It was only a matter of time before the Royals let go of Trey Hillman. They’ve played better baseball under Ned Yost but as Dayton Moore said (and due in large part to his own incompetence), that organization is years away from being relevant again.

14. Very quietly, Justin Morneau is leading the AL in BA, OPS, OBP, and SLG.

15. Even as the Mets and Nationals have come down to Earth, and the Marlins have continued to struggle, no one is out of it in the NL East yet.

16. Daric Barton’s .825 OPS leads all A’s, and Adam Rosales is their home run leader with 4. Nonetheless, they find themselves atop the AL West through May.

17. The Padres have been a nice story so far, but I’m gonna play Debbie Downer and guess that their reign atop the NL West won’t last much longer. The Dodgers and Rockies are coming.

18. The Chinese Zodiac says 2010 is the year of the Tiger; that Tiger is Miguel Cabrera. Having rededicated himself to baseball, he is demanding the attention of the baseball world after years of obscurity. He is almost single-handedly keeping the Tigers afloat.

19. The Dodgers and Rangers sound like the most logical Roy Oswalt landing spots to me.

20. The Mariners thought they were getting Milton Bradley so he could help them win the AL West; instead, they’re helping him get his life together. As the Griffey napping incident showed, the situation in Seattle is a straight-up debacle. You really can’t blame Cliff Lee for already talking about leaving.

21. It is laughable that Mark Teixeira (with his whopping .725 OPS) is ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Justin Morneau in the AL 1B vote, and that Jimmy Rollins is leading NL shortstops despite playing just 12 games. Needless to say, the time has come to abolish fan-voting for All-Star game starters. Make it happen Mr. Selig; the integrity of the mid-Summer classic depends on it.

22. Despite not spending a day in the minors, Mike Leake is making a difference in the Reds’ rotation.

23. Each member of the Rays’ rotation is in the top 30 in the AL in ERA, and they all have at least 5 wins. The only question is who is the Cy Young frontrunner; Niemann or Price?

24. Vladimir Guerrero was the best signing of the off season.

25. Congratulations Esmerling Vasquez; you and the D-Backs take the cake for dumbest loss of the year so far.


Report Cards Through May

A: Padres, Rays, Reds, Twins, Yankees

A-: A’s, Blue Jays, Braves, Cardinals

B+: Dodgers, Red Sox

B: Rangers, Rockies, Tigers

B-: Mets, Nationals

C+: Giants, Phillies

C: Angels, Marlins

C-: Cubs, White Sox

D+: Brewers, Pirates, Royals

D: Diamondbacks, Indians

D-: Astros, Mariners, Orioles


Sizing Up The Races


AL East

Through May, the division is home to four of the top five teams in the American League. 

The Rays are not going away; they are doing this year what I predicted they’d do in 2009. They’re hitting, playing solid defense, and most importantly, they’re pitching better than anyone in the AL. The Yankees started and ended May well, compensating for playing quite mediocrely in the middle of the month. These are the two AL East teams I expect to make the postseason.

The Blue Jays still haven’t faded but I’m not buying into them. They only have two more wins than they did at this point last season (they finished 4th), and I don’t think they have enough in their rotation behind Romero and Marcum. As fine a month as they had, all the Red Sox have to show for it is a 4th place standing. However, their pitching has really gotten it together recently; Buccholz and Lester have been fantastic.

In Baltimore, I suppose there’s always 2011… or 2012… or 2020.


AL Central

Not only would I not be surprised if the teams finished in this order, I’m expecting them to.

Note to self; never pick against the Twins again. It truly is them and then the rest of the division. To put it simply, they don’t beat themselves; they don’t commit errors and they don’t walk batters. Mauer and Morneau continue to get it done and I expected nothing less; what does surprise me is that their rotation, top to bottom, has been so remarkably steady.

The Tigers are an average team with a few excellent players. After a slow start, their pitching is coming together rather nicely. However, their offense is really starting to hamstring them as I feared it would. They just have way too many holes for an American League lineup. Early signs are that they still don’t know how to beat the Twins; they got swept at Target Field earlier in the month.

After Detroit, it’s a sizable drop-off. Few teams have been as disappointing as the White Sox this year. Outside of Danks, their much vaunted starting rotation has been horrible. Rios and Konerko are having nice years, but few of their other hitters are. As I expected preseason, the Royals and Indians have been two of the AL’s worst teams, and I can’t see things improving for either team.


AL West

This division race was hard to make sense of after April. A month later, that’s hardly the case.

The A’s are in first because of their pitching, as Anderson, Braden, and Gonzalez have all blossomed this year. Their offense has been quite sub-par, but they haven’t needed much run support lately. Despite Nelson Cruz’s nagging injuries, the Rangers offense has been fine thanks to Vlad Guerrero. Rich Harden and Scott Feldman’s struggles have been minimized thanks to the continued success of Colby Lewis and C.J. Wilson. I still think that overall, the Rangers are the best team in this division.

The Angels are down but not out. Their pitching has been nothing short of atrocious, the bullpen in particular. Either they’ll be crippled by the loss of Morales, or a few of their struggling hitters (Aybar, Rivera, Matsui) will get it together and their offense will get by. For all their struggles, they’re just 2.5 games out.

As for the Mariners, they’re done. They just do not score runs; the attempt at bringing back Whiteyball was valiant but ultimately ill-advised. They really had no business getting the hype they did preseason.


NL East

Wild, Wild East? Thus far, no one has fallen out of this race.

After ending April in last, the Braves find themselves atop the division 31 days later. This was largely due to their offense, which scored almost twice as many runs in May as they did in April. Clearly, Bobby Cox has no intentions of going out quietly. The Phillies ended May on a horrific note, as their offense went AWOL. They’ve got issues but they’ve also got talent, and it’s not time to panic yet.

After the top two, it’s a cluster of mediocrity, as the Marlins, Mets, and Nationals all find themselves at .500 and tied for 3rd place. The Marlins, having survived the HanRam fiasco, pose the biggest threat of the three. Their pitching has been solid if unspectacular, but they continue to shoot themselves in the foot by playing porous defense. 

The Mets had a May to forget, going 12-17 and getting outscored by 16 in the process. Their offense continues to fail them, and they have struggled to get quality innings from the starters behind Santana and Pelfrey. Despite a 13-16 month, the Nationals never lacked a buzz, as the baseball world anticipates the debut of Stephen Strasburg next week.


NL Central

You fans of bold predictions are in luck, as I’m about to make my first one of the season.

The Cincinnati Reds are going to win the NL Central. After years of unfulfilled promise, they have arrived. The only NL team that scored more runs last month were the Braves, and after a slow start, their pitching has come together nicely (without Edinson Volquez and Aroldis Chapman). Make no mistake though, the Cardinals are still a force to be reckoned with. Even with Penny and Lohse injured, the rest of the rotation has been phenomenal. This looks it will be quite the two team race.

The Cubs and Brewers have disappointed tremendously. It’s not that the Cubs have been awful; they’ve merely been thoroughly mediocre in every aspect of the game. They certainly have the talent to turn it around, but they’ve got to start making their move now. Just as the Mariners just don’t hit, the Brewers just don’t pitch. Gallardo has been fine, but contributions from the rest of the rotation have been few and far between; they are last in the NL in quality starts.

Aside from the intensifying Roy Oswalt sweepstakes, nothing new to report on the Astros and Pirates. They’re both hapless teams, just battling to stay out of the basement.


NL West

Things are starting to make more sense in this division, though it remains a shock to see who’s on top.

Simply put, the Padres are pitching their hearts out; that’s been their saving grace because only two teams scored fewer runs in May than they did. As I said, they’re a great story but I think it’s only a matter of time before their luck runs out. No matter what, there certainly are a lot of positive things going on in San Diego.

It took them a month, but the Dodgers finally got the memo the 2010 season was under way, closing to within 2 of the Padres. Even more impressive is that they did this with Andre Ethier missing half the month. Their rotation has really turned it around, as Kershaw and Billingsley are being the aces Joe Torre needed them to be. Ultimately, I think it’s only a matter of time before the Dodgers overtake the Padres for good.

It’s been a struggle at times for San Francisco and Colorado, but both have stayed afloat because of their pitching (the Giants because of their whole rotation, the Rockies because of the brilliant Ubaldo Jimenez). Both teams have the talent to keep the NL West a four team race the rest of the way.

D-Backs’ fans are being straight up tortured this year; their bullpen is that bad. Josh Byrnes really misjudged how far away this team was from contending.

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Dontrelle Willis and the Detroit Tigers Just Couldn’t Make It Work

You can’t say they didn’t try.

Dontrelle Willis and the Tigers did everything they could to make it work. They put him on the DL and gave him a mental vacation.

They changed his mechanics, and then changed them back.

They gave him every opportunity to earn a job this spring, and when it appeared he was up to the task of pitching in the majors, they essentially gave away Nate Robertson.

But when Willis returned this month, just as Max Scherzer pitched his way back to the majors, that was the final straw. For the Tigers to contend in 2010, they simply couldn’t keep running Dontrelle out there every fifth day.

The short-term implications for the Tigers are pretty severe. It means Scherzer and Armando Galarraga are being counted on to give the Tigers quality innings at the back end of the rotation. It also means that if one of them is not up to the task, the Tigers will be in the market for starting pitching later this summer.

Willis ends his tenure in Detroit with a 2-6 record and 6.86 ERA in 101 IP, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 0.74.

His disastrous career in a Tigers uniform over, some may now lament that the Tigers ever traded for him; I won’t. In fact, Willis joined the Tigers in a trade that seems likely to go down as one of the best in franchise history.

That’s because Willis was merely a throw-in to help facilitate the Tigers’ acquisition of Miguel Cabrera, the young slugger seemingly destined for Cooperstown who puts his greatness on display for Tigers fans just about every night.

Trading for Willis wasn’t a mistake. The same can’t be said for signing him to a three-year, $29 million extension before he ever threw a pitch in a Tigers uniform.

If his 2007 season had been anything like the 2005 campaign that saw him win 22 games with a 2.63 ERA, the extension would’ve been justifiable. However, Willis was coming off a terrible year that saw him post a 5.17 ERA and his WHIP climb for the third consecutive season.

Inexplicably, Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers simply took a leap of faith with Willis, investing heavily in him before it was clear if he was worth investing in or not. A more prudent approach would’ve been to allow Willis to prove he was headed in the right direction, and then signed him if it appeared so, even if it meant potentially losing him on the open market.

It’s a sad day for both Willis and the Tigers, but hardly as sad as June 9, 2008, when he walked five and gave up eight ER against the Indians before a national audience, or his final start of 2009, when he walked eight Pirates and didn’t make it out of the fourth inning.

In short, it had been clear for some time this wasn’t going to have a happy ending. Short of a Cy Young award or maybe winning the seventh game of the World Series, nothing Willis did this season was going to change his legacy in Detroit.

As forgettable as his time in Detroit was, it’s hard for me to harbor too much resentment towards Dontrelle. He came across as a humble, down-to-earth guy who seemed genuinely appreciative of the Tigers’ support and regretted that he had not lived up to expectations.

For the D-Train, this is certainly a bump in the road, but I find it hard to believe his baseball career is even close to being over. In fact, I think he’s an ideal reclamation project candidate.

For all the talk of an alleged anxiety disorder, I personally saw Willis’ issues as being more mechanical than anything. Earlier this year on MLB Network’s MLB Tonight, Tom Verducci broke down video of Willis that saw him throw from three different release points over the course of a few innings. You don’t have to be a pitching virtuoso to know there’s something wrong there.

Additionally, he seemed to struggle switching from the windup to the set, which hardly did him any good either.

There is clearly work to be done, but nothing I think is beyond a pitching coach like Dave Duncan to figure out (coincidentally, the Cardinals suddenly find themselves short on pitching). Whether it’s St. Louis or one of the other 28 teams, Willis will catch on somewhere.

In the meantime, you can’t help but think of what could’ve been. If he’d been anything close to the pitcher who won the hearts of fans all over South Florida, Dontrelle could’ve been the King of Motown.

No matter how futile it seemed, I wanted to keep believing in this guy. So did the entire Tigers organization.

It seemed like such a perfect match at first; that charismatic young pitcher with the million dollar smile coming on board to help lead the Tigers to their first World Series win in a quarter century.

The 2008 season just didn’t work out as expected; neither did Willis’ time in Detroit.

Clearly, some things just aren’t meant to be.

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