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2011 MLB Preview: Minnesota Twins

9 Innings Blog will be bringing you previews of every Major League Baseball team for the next 30 days. This is in accordance with our 30 teams in 30 days series. Today, we are going to give you the 2011 preview of the Minnesota Twins who are trying to three-peat as American Central division champions. The Twins also have Justin Morneau coming back this season as he could add to this dangerous team.

Last season was a good one for the Minnesota Twins. The Twins finished with one of the best seasons in baseball with a 94-68 record and single handedly dominated the AL Central for their second straight division title.

The Twins were led by the pitching prowess of Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano. Liriano was 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA and 201 strikeouts. Pavano was 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA and 117 strikeouts. That was one of Pavano’s best seasons he’s had in the majors.

The Twins did suffer some heart break though. Justin Morneau suffered a concussion and closer Joe Nathan having arm surgery, the team wasn’t exactly the same.

But two people stepped up their efforts. 40-year old Jim Thome, who is supposed to be washed up, hit 25 home runs and drove in 59 RBI in 108 games. Matt Capps, who was acquired mid-season from Washington, saves 16 games for Minnesota in Nathan’s absence and really helped down the stretch.

The Twins made it to the playoffs but ran into the Yankees which led to the usual sweep.

This year is looking like a good year for the Twins. Morneau is on his way back and Nathan is feeling better. Plus, the team added Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka to their lineup. However, they took some hard hits by losing key pieces in their bullpen like Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain, but I think the Twins could pull off another division title and may have a slight chance of making it to the World Series.

Breakout Player: Jason Kubel, DH

Key Addition: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B

Prediction: First AL Central

CA: Joe Mauer
1B: Justin Morneau
2B: Tsuyoshi Nishioka
3B: Danny Valencia
SS: Alexi Casilla
OF: Denard Span
OF: Michael Cuddyer
OF: Delmon Young
DH: Jason Kubel

Pitching Rotation
SP: Francisco Liriano
SP: Carl Pavano
SP: Nick Blackburn
SP: Brian Duensing
SP: Scott Baker

RP: Kevin Slowey
RP: Dusty Hughes
RP: Jim Hoey
RP: Glen Perkins
RP: Jose Mijares
RP: Matt Capps
CP: Joe Nathan

CA: Drew Butera
UTL: Jim Thome
UTL: Luke Hughes
OF: Jason Repko

Top Prospects
1). Aaron Hicks, OF
2). Miguel Sano, SS
3). Kyle Gibson, RHP
4). Danny Valencia, 3B
5). Ben Revere, OF

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2011 MLB Preview: Los Angeles Angels

9 Innings Blog will be bringing you previews of every Major League Baseball team for the next 30 days. This is in accordance with our 30 teams in 30 days series.

The second preview we are giving you today is the 2011 preview of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who are looking to climb back on top of the American League West division.

The Angels had a disappointing 2010 campaign, as they were favorites to win the AL West until the Rangers snagged LHP Cliff Lee from Seattle near the middle of the season.

The Angels finished the year in third, behind Texas and Oakland, with an 80-82 record. Los Angeles lost a lot during the 2009 free agency, including Vladimir Guerrero, John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Darren Oliver. They were all key parts of the 2009 ALCS run.

The Angels also had some turmoil during the season when slugger Kendry Morales tore his ACL after hitting a walk-off home run and celebrating around the bases. Morales finished with 11 home runs, 38 RBI and a batting average of .290.

LA had a topsy turvy season, and they also almost lost big in free agency this season.

The Angels lost out on two big free agents, OF Carl Crawford, who signed with Boston and LHP Cliff Lee, who landed in Philadelphia. The only big acquisition they got was Vernon Wells from Toronto, who they acquired for Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli.

I think the Angels will finish third in the West again this season, as they really didn’t do anything this year to improve the team.

Key Addition: Vernon Wells, OF

Breakout Player: Peter Bourjos, OF

Prediction: Third AL West


CA: Jeff Mathis
1B: Kendry Morales
2B: Howie Kendrick
3B: Maicer Izturis
SS: Erick Aybar
OF: Peter Bourjos
OF: Torii Hunter
OF: Vernon Wells
DH: Bobby Abreu


Pitching Rotation

SP: Jered Weaver
SP: Dan Haren
SP: Ervin Santana
SP: Joel Pineiro
SP: Scott Kazmir

RP: Bobby Cassevah
RP: Rich Thompson
RP: Hisanori Takahashi
RP: Jordan Walden
RP: Kevin Jepsen
RP: Scott Downs
CP: Fernando Rodney



CA: Bobby Wilson
UTL: Mark Trumbo
INF: Albert Callaspo
OF: Reggie Willits


Top Prospects

1). Mike Trout, OF
2). Tyler Chatwood, RHP
3). Jordan Walden, RHP
4). Hank Conger, CA
5). Jean Segura, 2B

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2011 MLB Preview: Kansas City Royals

9 Innings Blog will be bringing you previews of every Major League Baseball team for the next 30 days. This is in accordance with our 30 teams in 30 days series.

Today, we are going to give you two previews since I missed Friday’s preview. The first preview I am going to give you is the 2011 Kansas City Royals.

The Royals finished last season in last place of the American League Central division with a record of 67-95, a mere 27 games back of the Minnesota Twins.

The Royals only highlight during the season was the firing of Trey Hillman towards the beginning of the season. Hillman was replaced by former Milwaukee Brewers’ manager Ned Yost.

The Royals did make a splash trading ace Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers for SS Alcides Escobar, OF Lorenzo Cain, RHPs Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi. It was one of the big trades during the offseason and it’s still giving out aftershocks to this day.

The Royals have an alright team but they’re not going to climb anywhere in the division. At least not this season. The Royals will finish fourth at best. However, the Royals do have some good prospects that will come up in the near future and more than likely will help the ball club.

Key Addition: Jeff Francis, RHP

Breakout Player: Kila Ka’aihue, DH

Prediction: Fourth AL Central

CA: Brayan Pena
1B: Billy Butler
2B: Chris Getz
3B: Mike Aviles
SS: Alcides Escobar
OF: Alex Gordon
OF: Melky Cabrera
OF: Jeff Francoeur
DH: Kila Ka’aihue

Pitching Rotation
SP: Luke Hochevar
SP: Jeff Francis
SP: Kyle Davies
SP: Bruce Chen
SP: Vin Mazzaro

RP: Kanekoa Texiera
RP: Jesse Chavez
RP: Jeremy Jeffress
RP: Tim Collins
RP: Robinson Tejada
RP: Blake Wood
CP: Joakim Soria

CA: Lucas May
INF: Wilson Betemit
OF: Gregor Blanco
OF: Mitch Maier

Top Prospects
1). Mike Moustakas, 3B
2). Eric Hosmer, 1B
3). Wil Myers, DH
4). John Lamb, LHP
5). Michael Montgomery, LHP

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2011 MLB Preview: Houston Astros

The 9 Innings Blog will be bringing you previews of every Major League Baseball team for the next 30 days. This is in accordance with our 30 teams in 30 days series. Today, we are bringing you the 2011 preview of the Houston Astros. The Astros are looking to bounce back from a less than stellar 2010.

The Astros finished up the 2010 season finishing 76-86 which was good for fourth place in the National League Central, finishing better than the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Their season included trades of franchise players Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. In return, the Astros got very nice prospects in Brett Wallace and J.A. Happ from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Wallace is a big part of the 2011 lineup this season. Wallace is part of a young group of balllplayers that seem to be the future of the organization. However, the future doesn’t seem so bright for top prospect, catcher, Jason Castro.

Castro tore his ACL in a spring training game in early March and will most likely be out for the rest of the season. It is not the way anyone in the organization would have wanted his career to start out. Castro will not have to be replaced by either Humberto Quintero or J.R. Towles.

The Astros will have another less than stellar season. However, they won’t be dead last this year. I hope that J.A. Happ has a good year as well as outfielder Hunter Pence.

Key Addition: Bill Hall, 2B

Breakout Player: Brett Wallace, 1B

Prediction: Fifth NL West

CA: Humberto Quintero
1B: Brett Wallace
2B: Bill Hall
3B: Chris Johnson
SS: Clint Barmes
OF: Michael Bourn
OF: Hunter Pence
OF: Carlos Lee

Pitching Rotation
SP: Brett Myers
SP: Wandy Rodriguez
SP: Bud Norris
SP: J.A. Happ
SP: Nelson Figueroa

RP: Aneury Rodriguez
RP: Ryan Rowland-Smith
RP: Jeff Fulchino
RP: Fernando Abad
RP: Mark Melancon
RP: Wilton Lopez
CP: Brandon Lyon

CA: J.R. Towles
INF: Matt Downs
INF: Angel Sanchez
OF: Jason Bourgeois
OF: Jason Michaels

Top Prospects
1. Jordan Lyles, RHP
2. Delino DeShields Jr., OF
3. Jonathan Villar, SS
4. Michael Foltynewicz, RHP
5. Jovanni Mier, SS

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2011 MLB Preview: Florida Marlins

9 Innings Blog will be bringing you previews of every Major League Baseball team for the next 30 days. This is in accordance with our 30 teams in 30 days series. Today, we are bringing you the 2011 preview for the Florida Marlins. The Marlins have a very young team and are looking to try and reclaim some kind of prominence in the East this season.

The Marlins finished third in the NL East last season with an 80-82 record which wasn’t bad considering the kind of team they had. Other than the 80 wins, the Marlins did not have very many highlights of the 2010 season.

Towards the end of June, the team fired manager Fredi Gonzalez and replaced him with Edwin Rodriguez. Gonzalez is now the manager of the Atlanta Braves replacing retired manager Bobby Cox.

The Marlins also had Phillies starter Roy Halladay throw a perfect game at SunLife Stadium which was the second in the 2010 season and the 20th in MLB history.

Josh Johnson had an outstanding season going 11-6 with a 2.30 ERA and recording 186 strikeouts. On the offensive side, SS Hanley Ramirez had an up and down season clashing with the manager and batting .300 hitting 21 homers with 76 RBI.

However, the Marlins traded away a big part of their team in Dan Uggla. The offseason for Florida started with Uggla not being able to re-sign with the team and he ended up getting traded to Atlanta for 2B Omar Infante who will fill in for Uggla.

Florida did sign RHP Javier Vazquez from the Yankees. Vazquez was 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA for the Yankees sharing time between the rotation and the bullpen last season.

Florida also signed catcher John Buck from Kansas City to upgrade their catcher position. Buck hit 20 homers with 66 RBI and a batting average of .281. He was the biggest signing for Florida as they look to win their first division crown.

But in a division with Philadelphia and Atlanta, the Marlins at best could finish third this year, but I think they may slip up and could finish just behind the Mets. Anything is possible nowadays.

Key Addition: John Buck, CA

Breakout Player: Mike Stanton, OF

Prediction: Third NL East

CA: John Buck
1B: Gaby Sanchez
2B: Omar Infante
3B: Matt Dominguez
SS: Hanley Ramirez
OF: Mike Stanton
OF: Chris Coghlan
OF: Logan Morrison

Pitching Rotation
SP: Josh Johnson
SP: Ricky Nolasco
SP: Anibal Sanchez
SP: Javier Vazquez
SP: Chris Volstad

RP: Burke Badenhop
RP: Randy Choate
RP: Ed Mujica
RP: Mike Dunn
RP: Ryan Webb
RP: Clay Hensley
CP: Leo Nunez

CA: Brett Hayes
3B: Wes Helms
INF: Donnie Murphy
UTL: Emilio Bonifacio
OF: Scott Cousins

Top Prospects
1). Matt Dominguez, 3B
2). Chad James, LHP
3). Christian Yelich, LF
4). Jhan Marinez, RHP
5). Ozzie Martinez, SS

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2011 MLB Preview: Colorado Rockies

The “9 Innings Blog” will be bringing you previews of every Major League Baseball team for the next 30 days. This is in accordance with our 30 teams in 30 days series. Today, we bring you the 2011 preview for the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies are looking to get back to playoffs and are ready to become a serious threat for the World Series crown.

The Rockies did not finish strong last year, losing eight straight after winning 10 straight in the beginning of September. The Rockies were shaky throughout the whole year and only seem to make a push towards the end of the season.

Colorado did make a few changes this year to the roster. It acquired 2B Jose Lopez from Seattle while letting 3B Melvin Mora go to Arizona.

SS Troy Tulowitzki and OF Carlos Gonzalez both got long multi-year extensions. The Rockies also re-signed pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, who was one of the top pitchers on the free agent market.

Colorado hopes that Ubaldo Jimenez can return to form as he broke out last season with a 19-8 record last season and a 2.88 ERA. He also had 214 strikeouts. Carlos Gonzalez also broke out too, batting .336 with 34 homers and 117 RBI.

If Jimenez and Gonzalez can continue to produce, along with some production from the latter half of the rotation and lineup, the Rockies can contend against the World Series champion Giants in the West.

Key Addition: Jorge De La Rosa, RHP

Breakout Player: Dexter Fowler, OF

Prediction: Second NL West

CA: Chris Ianetta
1B: Todd Helton
2B: Jose Lopez
3B: Ian Stewart
SS: Troy Tulowitzki
OF: Carlos Gonzalez
OF: Dexter Fowler
OF: Seth Smith

Pitching Rotation
SP: Ubaldo Jimenez
SP: Jorge De La Rosa
SP: Jhoulys Chacin
SP: Jason Hammel
SP: Felipe Paulino

RP: Franklin Morales
RP: Matt Daley
RP: Matt Lindstrom
RP: Matt Reynolds
RP: Matt Belisle
RP: Rafael Betancourt
CP: Huston Street

CA: Jose Morales
1B: Jason Giambi
INF: Ty Wigginton
UTL: Jonathan Herrera
OF: Ryan Spilborghs

Top Prospects
1). Tyler Matzek, LHP
2). Wilin Rosario, CA
3). Nolan Renado, 3B
4). Cristhian Friedrich, RHP
5). Kyle Parker, OF

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2011 MLB Preview: Cincinnati Reds

9 Innings Blog will be bringing you previews of every Major League Baseball team for the next 30 days. This is in accordance with our 30 teams in 30 days series. Today, we are going to preview the 2011 Cincinnati Reds’ squad, who are the reigning NL Central Division champions and are looking to repeat this season as well.

The Reds finished last year with a 91-71 record behind their two top performers, first baseman Joey Votto and outfielder Jay Bruce. They beat the Cardinals by five games.

Votto had a phenomenal season. He won the NL MVP award hitting 37 home runs and driving in 113 RBI. He led the league in on-base percentage (.424), slugging percentage (.600), and OPS (1.024).

Bruce also contributed fairly to the Reds performance last season. Bruce had 25 homers and 70 RBI for the team. He batted .281/.353/.493. The Reds were lucky enough to sign both players to multi-year extensions this offseason too.

Bronson Arroyo also earned a multi-year extension with the team. Arroyo was 17-10 last season with 3.88 ERA and 1.145 WHIP.

The Reds made it to the playoffs as well last season. But they fell into the Philadelphia Phillies trap as Roy Halladay and company would blank them out. The Phillies swept Cincinnati but not until Halladay pitched a no-hitter in game game one of the series.

The only key moves that Cincy made during the offseason was re-signing Arroyo, Bruce and Votto to extensions. They released SS Orlando Cabrera in favor of what was supposed to be Paul Janish but then the team picked up World Series MVP Edgar Renteria.

The teams expects to keep Cuban flamethrower Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen this year and could be used as a closer if Francisco Cordero loses some of his luster.

In the long run, I feel like the Reds can pull off another division win. The Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright for the season and Albert Pujols is not happy with the team, which could affect the team’s play as a whole. The Reds will beat the Cubs, Astros, Pirates for the win and another appearance in the playoffs

Key Addition: Edgar Renteria, SS

Breakout Player: Drew Stubbs, OF

Prediction: First, NL Central

CA: Ramon Hernandez
1B: Joey Votto
2B: Brandon Phillips
3B: Scott Rolen
SS: Paul Janish
OF: Drew Stubbs
OF: Jay Bruce
OF: Jonny Gomes

Pitching Rotation
SP: Edinson Volquez
SP: Bronson Arroyo
SP: Johnny Cueto
SP: Homer Bailey
SP: Travis Wood

RP: Carlos Fisher
RP: Jared Burton
RP: Logan Ondrusek
RP: Bill Bray
RP: Nick Masset
RP: Aroldis Chapman
CP: Francisco Cordero

CA: Ryan Hanigan
INF: Edgar Renteria
UTL: Miguel Cairo
OF: Chris Heisey
OF: Fred Lewis

Top Prospects
1). Aroldis Chapman, LHP
2). Devin Mesoraco, CA
3). Yonder Alonso, 1B
4). Billy Hamilton, SS
5). Yorman Rodriguez, OF

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2011 MLB Preview: Chicago Cubs

9 Innings Blog will be bringing you previews of every Major League Baseball team for the next 30 days. This is in accordance with our 30 teams in 30 days series. Today we are taking a look at the 2011 Chicago Cubs squad that is ready and raring to make it back to the playoffs and the may have the team to do it this year.

The Cubs had a disappointing 2010 campaign, finishing in fourth in the National League Central division with a 75-87 record. Even worse for the Cubs was the announcement of Lou Pinella’s retirement coming during the middle of the season.

Piniella announced in July of 2010 that he would retire at the end of the season, but due to his mother’s illness, Piniella called it quits early. The Cubs replaced him with Mike Quade, who led the team to a 24-13 record, which was the best down that stretch. So yes, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for the Cubs.

Quade’s interim tag was removed at the beginning of the offseason this year, as he got named as the full-time manager. The Cubs also began making some moves during this offseason.

The Cubs made a splash when they signed power-hitting first baseman Carlos Pena as well as being able to re-sign third baseman Aramis Ramirez. The Cubs also signed reliever Kerry Wood, who was in the Yankees and Indians bullpen last year.

Probably the biggest move they made was the trade for Matt Garza. The Cubs acquired Garza, OF Fernando Perez and LHP Zachary Rosscup for CA Robinson Chirinos, SS Hak-Ju Lee, OF Brandon Guyer, and RHP Chris Archer.

Clearly we see that the Cubs are aiming to win now instead of down the line. We hope to see the Cubs being competitive and maybe they could pull out a first place victory.

Key Addition: Matt Garza, P and Carlos Pena, 1B

Breakout Player: Starlin Castro, SS

Prediction: Second NL Central

CA: Geovany Soto
1B: Carlos Pena
2B: Blake DeWitt
3B: Aramis Ramirez
SS: Starlin Castro
OF: Kosuke Fukudome
OF: Marlon Bryd
OF: Alfonso Soriano

Pitching Rotation
SP: Carlos Zambrano
SP: Matt Garza
SP: Ryan Dempster
SP: Randy Wells
SP: Carlos Silva

RP: Todd Wellemeyer
RP: Marcos Mateo
RP: John Grabow
RP: Andrew Cashner
RP: Sean Marshall
RP: Kerry Wood
CP: Carlos Marmol

CA: Koyie Hill
INF: Darwin Barney
UTL: Jeff Baker
OF: Tyler Colvin
OF: Fernando Perez

Top Prospects
1). Brett Jackson, OF
2). Trey McNutt, RHP
3). Josh Vitters, 3B
4). Chris Carpenter, RHP
5). Michale Burgess, OF

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Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright to Officially Have Tommy John Surgery

As 9 Inning Blog reported yesterday, Adam Wainwright will indeed continue with his decision to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Wainwright did go for a second opinion today and it did conclude that he will have to go under the knife.

Tommy John surgery usually requires 12-18 months of rehabilitation. Tough break for a kid who was slowly coming up in the ranks as a pitcher.

Wainwright has gone the past four seasons winning 10+ games and finished the past two seasons with 200+ strikeouts. Last year, he was 20-11 with 2.42 ERA and the previous year, he was 19-8 with 2.63 ERA.

Cardinals will be able to void their $9 million option for 2012 and $12 million for 2013, so it will be interesting to see how they handle his contract situation.

The bigger question is who is going to replace the right-hander. I offered some insight on who could replace him yesterday and came to the conclusion that it will be Kyle McClellan.

However, a few more names have been thrown in the mix as well. Ian Snell, Lance Lynn, Brian Tallet and Miguel Batista could also be part of the in-house mix that gets the job. Also, consider Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Bonderman, who both have yet to find jobs in the majors this season.

I also heard that if either the Yankees’ Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia do not make the team out of Spring Training, they have an out-clause in their contracts where they could get released.

If anything, Wainwright’s 15+ wins are going to be very difficult to replace, especially in the ever more competitive National League Central.

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Chicago White Sox: Coming in To Close for the Sox Is…

Reading the latest news around Major League Baseball, I saw a Chicago Tribune article that says that manager Ozzie Guillen wants to name one closer between Chris Sale or Matt Thornton since Bobby Jenks departed for Boston and switched his Sox.

Chris Sale is a flame-throwing pitcher that came onto the scene last year for the White Sox. Sale was taken as the 13th pick in last season’s amateur draft and appeared in 21 games for the Sox gathering four saves and a 1.93 ERA.

Matt Thornton has been a bullpen guy for the White Sox for the past five seasons. Last year, Thornton had eight saves in 61 games for Chicago.

Who’s better suited for the job?

If you haven’t known, the White Sox are leaning towards making Chris Sale a starter in the future. Sale had some success in college at Florida Gulf Coast before joining Chicago. If anything happens to Jake Peavy or any other Sox starter, I’ll bet you Sale will be immediately place in the rotation.

That being said, Thornton is probably more suitable since you know he’s a bullpen guy and you’re probably not going to keep switching him from the rotation and back. 

If anything, Thornton will turn out to probably share the closer role with Sale, but get more appearances. If he fails, newly acquired Jesse Crain or Will Ohman could help. 

In 71 games for the Twins last season, Crain had an ERA of 3.04 and had only one save while Joe Nathan sat all season and Jon Rauch took over closer duties. Will Ohman split time between Baltimore and Florida and carried a 3.21 ERA in 68 games and did not record a save.

Barring the completely insane, Ohman would be a specialist and Crain would be a setup man this season.

What about you White Sox fans? Who will be the closer starting the 2011 season?

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