As I sit here and look at my bank account to determine if it is time for a microwaved dinner or if I can actually afford some decent food, I can’t help but feel utter rage over what I just read. In recent years, Major League Baseball players have been setting record contract deals almost every other day. The Los Angeles Dodgers just signed Clayton Kershaw to the highest pitching deal in MLB history. Kershaw’s new 7-year $215 million deal with Dodgers is the cherry on top of this insane baseball tradition.
Just one month after Robinson Cano signed the 4th largest contract ever with the Seattle Mariners, pissing off every Yankees fan by the way, Kershaw agreed to an astonishing $31 million a year deal for 7 years. This makes Kershaw now the 12th Pitcher in MLB history to sign a contract worth over $100 million dollars. Yes you read that correctly, there are now 12 different pitchers that have signed contracts for playing a sport that demands them to work no more than 40 days out of the year. When you look at it that way it really makes you wonder if any of these players are actually worth it.
I still remember when Kevin Brown signed the first ever $100+ million dollar deal and how absurd that sounded when it happened. Now it has just become absolutely disgraceful. To keep it in perspective, it isn’t just pitchers that are paid with these exorbitant deals. In 2013 alone, there were 20 different players that made at least $20 million dollars and only half of those were pitchers. The amount of money these “athletes” are making is unfathomable. If you don’t like my quotations on the word athletes take a look at the image below.
There is no denying that baseball is the overall least athletic of America’s 5 major sports (Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey and Soccer). I just don’t understand how some teams can justify paying a single player this much money. With Kershaw and Cano’s new deals there are now 6 players in the MLB that will make more money next season than the entire Houston Astros team (Houston’s 2013 teams total salary was slightly over $24,000,000).
So I ask everyone reading this, is there any justification for paying someone this much money? Sure, Kershaw has been the best pitcher in the National League, and arguably all of Baseball over the last 3 years, but even so is he worth $30+ million a season. In his first 6 seasons, Clayton has only hit the 20 win mark once (21 in 2011 when he won his first Cy Young). So let’s say that he is going to have a career year next season and win 25 games for the Dodgers; that would mean that LA paid Kershaw alone $1,228,571.43 for each of those wins. That’s not even taking into account the games he might lose. This is clearly a preposterous amount for any player no matter how good he may be.
All in all, my point is that Baseball needs to come up with some salary cap rules similar to those of the NBA to regulate what these players are making. At this pace, players around bound to be making close to $40,000,000 a year by 2020. That is just laughable!
Do you remember back during Spring Training in March when everyone was thinking that the AL East was wide open for anyone to grab? Well it turns out not much has changed in the last 5 months. Not only is the AL East the only division with 4 teams above a .500 winning percentage, but the 5th team that is under .500 is arguably one of the most dangerous offenses in the game. As a Mets fan, I am nearing the point in my baseball season where I can stop caring about the Mets demise and I can start paying attention to the contenders whom I’ll be watching come September and October. There is no doubt that the AL East is the most exciting division in baseball and I am going to break down how I feel the final 60 games will unfold and who will reign supreme in the East.
1st Place – Baltimore Orioles
Right now, Baltimore is 3.5 games out of first place trailing both Tampa and Boston. The reason I predict they will finish in first is because they are just too damn powerful in every position to not. I’ve had the pleasure of watching a lot of Orioles games this year because of my addiction to watching Chris Davis At-Bats. (Side note: I haven’t enjoyed watching two powerhouses like Davis and Cabrera go back and forth with bombs so much since the glorious 98′ season with Sosa and McGuire.) The Orioles rank first in baseball in Slugging Percentage, 3rd in Runs and 4th in Batting Average. Rarely do you see so much power mixed with batting average for a whole team. Buck Showalter has the luxury of changing his lineup on a nightly basis based on pitching matchups without ever sacrificing power or average. The one weakness that the Orioles have faced all year long is their uneven pitching rotation. While there have been some glimpses of success, for the most part the Baltimore rotation has sucked. So while I believe that the O’s will power through with their offense for the rest of the regular season, I also think that their dismal pitching will lead to their playoff demise.
2nd Place – Tamp Bay Devil Rays
If you jump back exactly two months from today you would have seen the Devil Rays sitting in 4th place in the AL East. If you look at the standings today, you will find Tampa in sole possession of first place by a half game over the Red Sox. Tampa has been lights out since May 27th by posting a 35-17 record since then. They have had all of their success with a steady balance of offense, pitching and defense. Between Evan Longoria doing what Evan Longoria does and Matt Moore proving in his second season that he is a legitimate Ace in this league, the Devil Rays are set for many more seasons to come. They have also found a nice diamond in the rough who actually used to hover around the Mendoza line while with the Dodgers; James Loney is hitting a remarkable .317 with 10 HR’s and 50 RBI’s after only hitting .249, 6 and 41 all last year between LA and Boston. It also helps that he has stayed healthy all year and has played in 101 of Tampa’s 103 games thus far. (Side note: The Devil Rays just lit up CC Sabathia, who I think is a top 5 pitcher in the AL, for 7 runs making it the third time they scored at least 5 on him this season.) The reason that I feel the Devil Rays will finish as one of the AL’s two Wild Card teams and not with the pennant is because while they are good in a lot of categories they aren’t the best in any of them and to win a division you need the best.
3rd Place – Boston Red Sox
If you tried to tell me before this season started that you believed the Red Sox would be leading the Majors in Runs and On-Base Percentage I would have laughed in your face. Well surprise surprise, that is exactly where they rank with just two months left in the season. Big Papi David Ortiz is having a career year when most people thought he should have been washed up at this point. It should only be a few months before we find out it is all from PED use, but let’s enjoy it while we can. In his 16th season, the ageless wonder has a ridiculous stat line that would easily be up for MVP talks if it weren’t for the seasons that Davis and Cabrera are having. The career .287 hitter is batting .323 with 19 HR’s and 65 RBI’s. With Ortiz proving age doesn’t matter, the emergence of Jose Iglesias and Dustin Pedroia putting up consistently great numbers, the Red Sox offense has been great all year. Their pitching, however, has the same issues that Baltimore’s does. Lester, Lackey and Buchholz have all had streaks this year of great successes but for the most part, their inconsistencies are the exact reason they will lose to the Devil Rays in the one-game Wild Card playoffs. Yeah, that’s right, I think both Wild Card teams this year are coming out of this beast of a division.
4th Place – New York Yankees
While it pains me to say this, the Yankees are the most impressive team, (based on what they have), in this division. Plagued with more injuries than I have ever seen a team suffer through, the Yankees have had to put laughable lineups on the field on almost a daily basis. No Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Granderson has led to lineups filled with the Overbay’s and Hafner’s of the world that would barely make it in the minors. Even with all of this adversity, the Yankees, whom I hate very much, have played way above average ball. In fact, they have been in playoff contention since day one of the season until recently. Even Yankees fans can admit that they did not expect to be above .500 at this point in the season but their roster and skill set are coming back to reality as they are now 7 games out of first. CC has been struggling worse than he ever has in his career and outside of Cano, there is not one bright spot on the entire roster. Thank God for Mariano Rivera who is absolutely killing it in his final year. If there was ever going to be a season where the Mets were going to out play the Yankees it was this one and yet it still didn’t happen. The Yankees have a lot of rebuilding to do over the next few years but they should not put their heads down because this season was way more of a success then it should have been.
5th Place – Toronto Blue Jays
Before this season started I was talking about how the Blue Jays had a great chance to take this division with the offseason moves they made. Turns out I was terribly wrong. My boy, RA Dickey, is proving that there is a huge difference between pitching in the AL East and the NL East. Last years NL Cy Young winner is getting lit up this year with a nearly 5 ERA and a pitiful 8-11 record. It doesn’t help that he pitches in the best hitting division in baseball and in a stadium that seems to give up 10 Home Runs every game played there. The Blue Jays struggles can not all be blamed on Dickey because their entire pitching staff BLOWS! In fact, the best ERA on their starting rotation comes from Mark Buehrle and his awful 4.50 mark. Pathetic! It was a very tough start to the season for Toronto with Jose Reyes being injured and not one person on their team hitting above .300. With the Blue Jays it has been Home Run or Strikeout all season long and it has led them to a pretty disappointing season. The brightest spot on their team this year has been the power surge that Edwin Encarnacion has been on. While his batting average is below .270 he has hit 28 Home Runs already and knocked in 80 RBI’s before August. Unfortunately for Toronto, there is not much to cheer about this year and with the amount of money they spent in the offseason you can expect to see this team dismantled during the Winter.
You might disagree with my predictions for how this season will unfold but there is no denying that the American League East is the premier division in all of Baseball.
The 2012 Major League Baseball season has been nothing short of spectacularly crazy. From a plethora of injuries to emerging young superstars, this season has been non-stop entertainment for baseball fans around the world. The World Series is now upon us, as the best team from the American League faces off with the best from the National League to determine who the greatest team of the year is. The Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants both traveled completely different paths to reach this final plateau, but in the end they will battle it out on America’s biggest stage to win that coveted trophy in the Fall Classic. Here is a breakdown of each team position by position and how they matchup with each other.
Catcher: Buster Posey vs. Alex Avila
Buster Posey is coming off of just winning the Comeback Player of the Year in the National League and his play in the playoffs has shown why. Posey is one of the top two most important bats in the Giants lineup while his counterpart, Alex Avila, is clearly in his lineup for defensive purposes. Posey isn’t so bad on the defensive end himself and with Avila batting even worse in the postseason (.227) than he did in the regular season (.243), Posey is proving to be the much better catcher between the two.
Edge: Buster Posey
1st Base: Brandon Belt vs Prince Fielder
Like the catcher position, this comparison is almost unfair. Brandon Belt is a solid defensive first baseman but is only in his first full season in the Majors, making him a work in progress. Prince Fielder on the other hand was one of the biggest pickups of the offseason and teamed up with his PIC, Miguel Cabrera, to absolutely dominate pitching across the league all season long. On top of Fielder’s ridiculously good hitting, he is also getting better defensively every game and will soon pass his father as the best in the family.
Edge: Prince Fielder
2nd Base: Marco Scutaro vs. Omar Infante
If I was asked at the beginning of the playoffs who is the better between these two second basemen I wouldn’t have hesitated in saying Omar Infante. But after a 14-hit NLCS which resulted in Scutaro winning the NLCS MVP, he is now the favorite in my mind. Both of these players are defensive specialists with the ability to hit for average, but there is not much power coming from either of them. Scutaro is slowly turning into the best midseason acquisition of the league, and Infante has been nothing more than just a solid #9 hitter in the Tigers lineup.
Edge: Marco Scutaro
Shortstop: Brandon Crawford vs. Jhonny Peralta
Both of these players are clear indications of defensive specialists. The only difference between the two is power and experience, Crawford 2 years and Peralta 9 years. Peralta is always a threat to go deep and has had an amazing 2012 playoffs thus far (.343 BA), with a couple bombs already. Crawford will not hit for power, he only has two extra base hits in the playoffs, but he is a scrappy player and will find ways to get on base to help his team. Neither of these teams rely heavily on either of these SS and their offense, but both can make an impact on any given day.
Edge: Jhonny Peralta
3rd Base: Pablo Sandoval vs. Miguel Cabrera
This has to be the most intriguing matchup of any position in this series. The first Triple Crown winner since 1967, Miguel Cabrera, versus one of the most lovable and talented players in his position, Pablo Sandoval, will be heavily watched by every spectator. Unfortunately for Sandoval, he will be compared to the best player in the game right now for the entirety of the series. Cabrera is without question the best hitter in the league and the fact that he matches that with stellar defense makes him a priceless player. I like Panda, but it is tough when you are compared to the best. Cabrera is coming off of arguably one of the greatest offensive seasons ever and single-handedly carried the Tigers offense for most of the year.
Edge: Miguel Cabrera
Left Field: Gregor Blanco vs. Andy Dirks/Delmon Young
Obviously Detroit does not play two left fielders but since they are an American League team, they do play with a designated hitter. While I am not positive who the Giants will throw out there as the extra bat when the games are being played in Detroit, I do know that Delmon Young will be strictly a DH when they are home. Andy plays a solid left field and even has some pop to his bat but he will not be playing when they are in San Francisco. So I will be comparing Blanco to Young and even though Blanco has had a good year and has a solid glove, Delmon proved in his ALCS trouncing of the Yankees, just how valuable he can be. Young’s glove is a little skeptical but not enough to keep his bat out of the lineup.
Edge: Delmon Young
Center Field: Angel Pagan vs. Austin Jackson
I have a soft spot in my heart for Angel Pagan because he is truly one of the hardest working men in the game and he has proved that again this season in his first year in San Francisco. Pagan is extremely talented in the field and provides the Giants with some important at bats at the front of the lineup. Austin Jackson has the same responsibility for the Tigers. Jackson is one of the fastest in the game and he might even come out of this season with a gold glove. He is young and super talented in every aspect of the game. While I absolutely love Pagan as a player I think that Jackson is just on another level talent-wise.
Edge: Austin Jackson
Right Field: Hunter Pence vs. Brennan Boesch
Boesch is always a threat when he picks up a bat and he adds to that by playing a solid right field. Boesch will find himself anywhere from the 6 to the 8 hole in the lineup and with Cabrera and Fielder in front of him, he will have a big role to play for driving in runs for the Tigers. In my mind, Hunter Pence is one of the most talented outfielders in the National League. Unfortunately for the Giants, he is yet to really emerge as that superstar I know he is. Pence had a subpar regular season and he hasn’t done anything particularly special in the postseason, but every one of Detroit’s pitchers knows the threat that Hunter poses every time he is at the plate. I think this will be a good series for Pence and he will finally prove his worth as a San Francisco Giant.
Edge: Hunter Pence
Starting Pitching: Justin Verlander and company vs. Matt Cain and company
I love the pitching matchups that will be coming out of this series. While I think that Justin Verlander is the best pitcher that the Majors has seen since Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens were in their prime, I think that the pitchers the Giants are throwing out there can give them a run for their money. Verlander will be facing Barry Zito in game 1 of the World Series because Cain is just on two days rest after pitching a masterful game 7 in the NLCS against the Cardinals that inevitably led to their WS trip. The Giants have Bumgarner and Vogelsong to round out their starting 4 with Lincecum available for long relief or even an injury replacement. The Tigers have strikeout master Scherzer, Fister, and Sanchez to follow in Verlander’s footsteps. I don’t think the Tigers staff will have as easy a time as they did against the anemic bats of the Yankees, but there is no denying the amount of talent that Detroit puts out there on a nightly basis.
Edge: Justin Verlander and company
Relief Pitching: Sergio Romo and company vs. Jose Valverde and company
In my NLCS preview, I completely underrated the Giants bullpen. They pitched magnificently throughout the NLCS and were flawless in the final 3 wins that brought them to the World Series. Sergio Romo has had a couple of hiccups but he has managed to get himself out of any trouble that came his way. Jose Valverde on the other hand got rocked in his only game against the Yankees and was lucky enough to have his team save him in an eventual game 1 victory. Both of these teams have solid set up men and long relievers that can salvage games in any inning. What it comes down is that both of these teams starting pitching staffs are so good that the bullpens will not see much action in this series.
Edge: Sergio Romo and company
Manager: Bruce Bochy vs. Jim Leyland
I think that Bruce Bochy has done an incredible job all season long, leading the Giants to yet another NL West crown and now a trip to his second World Series in three years. What’s most impressive is that Bochy has done all of this without one bona fide superstar on their roster. It has been the true definition of team play. Leyland took a totally different approach to the season as he had his team revamped in the offseason into a teams of all-stars and it clearly took him longer than expected to get his shit together. It wasn’t until mid-September that Detroit even took first place in the pathetic AL Central. Well, that slow start is behind them and the Tigers are coming off one of the most dominant sweeps in Championship Series history, and with Leyland’s already uber-impressive resume, I find it hard not to pick Detroit as the team with a managerial advantage.
Edge: Jim Leyland
Overall, these two teams are ridiculously close on paper. I think this series will come down to 7 hard fought games and each of these teams fans will be on the edge of their seats on a nightly basis. I feel that Detroit has a slight advantage by having Justin Verlander pitch game 1, which will give Leyland the option to put him in for a game 4 start and maybe even a game 7 one if necessary. I know I am looking forward to well played World Series and I can’t wait to see who takes home the grand prize.
Series Prediction: Detroit Tigers in 7
With yesterday’s controversial St. Louis Cardinals victory over the Atlanta Braves in the Wild Card play-in, the stage is set for the first round of the National League Division Series. Out of the 4 remaining NL playoff teams, only one of them is in unfamiliar territory. The inexperienced Washington Nationals are looking to continue their magical run under the supervision of seasoned manager, Davey Johnson. As for the San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds, each of these teams have been in this position within the past few years and they all know what the playoff hot seat feels like. Here is my previews and predictions on how I feel these divisional games will go down, and who will be battling it out for the NLCS.
Perennial bottom dwellers of the NL East, the Washington Nationals have changed their reputation by not only winning their division, but finishing with the best record in all of baseball (98-64). I want to start by apologizing for predicting, before the season started, that the Nats would continue their past trends by finishing with a reverse record of what they actually ended up with. The Nationals are in extremely unfamiliar territory as they have never made the playoffs since moving from Montreal to Washington in 2005. While there were a lot of analysts that predicted the Nats to be a competitive team this year, not one of them thought they would finish with the best record in baseball. The Nationals finished in the top 10 in the National League in pretty much every offensive category, but what brought them to the playoffs was their stellar pitching. Washington finished with the 2nd best ERA, BAA and WHIP in the NL and were lights out from the beginning of the season till the end. One problem with the amazing pitching that propelled the Nats all season long is that their Ace, Stephen Strasburg, is no longer active. That is why the team will rely heavily on Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and Edwin Jackson. Gio is looking like the best Free Agent signing of the last off-season as he has remained in the NL Cy Young talks all season long. Even with the great pitching, we all know that Washington is going to have to find some help in the batting category, so they are hoping that the career year from Adam LaRoche (33 HR 100 RBI) continues through the playoffs.
I still can’t believe that the St. Louis Cardinals are even in the playoffs. After losing their franchise’s greatest player ever, Albert Pujols, and also one of the baseball’s best ever managers, Tony LaRussa, everyone thought that the Cardinals reign as a perennial NL contender would be over. Not so fast. While the Nationals did finish with the best record in baseball, I can guarantee that the Cards prefer this matchup over the other two teams in the NL mainly because of Washington’s inexperience in the playoffs. Let’s not forget that the Cardinals are the defending World Series Champions, so they would have to be the team to beat in the playoffs this year. Even without Pujols, the Cardinals were a fantastic offensive team this year. They led the entire NL in OBP (.338) and made sure to bring those runners in by having the 5th most runs scored in the league (765). Most of the Cardinals starting lineup are relatively young so veterans Yadier Molina, Matt Holiday and Carlos Beltran are all going to have to step up big time against these tough pitchers that the Nats will be throwing at them. Outside of Kyle Lohse, the Cards pitching staff has been pretty inconsistent, especially their Ace, Adam Wainwright. Rookie manager and former Cardinals player, Mike Matheny, should be in the talks for NL Manager of the year, but I think that Davey Johnson will win that honor because of what he did with Washington.
Prediction: There really isn’t much history between these two teams for me to base my predictions on, so I will go solely on my analysis of each team. The Nationals story has been an amazing one all season long and since they are representing my NL East I will definitely be secretly cheering for them. Unfortunately, I am a firm believer, especially in MLB, that experience in the playoffs gives your respective team a huge advantage. That being said, I have to pick the Cardinals pesky bats and playoff bred team to squeak by the Nationals in what I believe will be the most exciting of all 4 division series matchups. Cardinals in 5
This series has got to be Dusty Baker’s biggest nightmare. The former San Fran manager and current Reds skipper came so close to winning the World Series nearly a decade ago while leading the Giants. Now in the opposite dugout, Dusty hopes to have his team finally win that coveted World Series trophy. The Reds had a great season this year and easily won the NL Central. Cincinnati went about their winning ways with exceptional pitching and some good old-fashioned defense. Their offense was pretty abysmal for the majority of the season and their offensive woes weren’t helped by their best hitter, Joey Votto, being sidelined with an injury for an extended period of time. Entering this divisional series, the Reds are completely healthy and ready to take on the 2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants. Led by NL Cy Young candidate, Johnny Cueto, the Reds will rely heavily on their pitching to help them to the next level. Veterans, Brandon Philipps and Scott Rolen, will need to use their experience to help the young Reds stay focused and continue to play the smart baseball that has pushed them to success all season long.
The San Francisco Giants are in very familiar territory having just won it all two seasons ago. The Giants found success all season long with a steady balance of offense and defense. The Giants coach, Bruce Bochy, stated that he was thrilled when his team clinched their division early so he could rest the players he wanted to and make sure he was at full strength entering the playoffs. While I agree with Bochy’s attitude, his 2010 winning Giants hadn’t clinched their playoff position until the final game of that season…hmmmm. The Giants had a tough battle all year with the Los Angeles Dodgers biting at their heals until the final month of the season when the Giants eventually pulled away. The NL West rivalry reached epic heights when both teams attacked the trade deadline like it was win or die this season. The Giants acquired Hunter Pence, who has been a solid position player for them since. San Fran is really going to need some of their bats to step up and fill the shoes of PED user Melky Cabrera. Even though hippie favorite, Tim Lincecum had an awful season this year, I feel he will be prepared to help his Giants in their playoff rotation. Matt Cain had an inconsistent ending to the 2012 regular season, but as the Giants Ace, he is going to have to put those struggles behind him and find a way to succeed against the tough Cincinnati Reds. Buster Posey and Pablo “Panda” Sandoval are going to have to be the difference makers for a Giants lineup that truly does not have a bona fide superstar.
Prediction: This matchup is going to be very competitive and will provide both of these teams fans some amazing baseball. I feel that the outcome of the series will be determined in the first game as Johnny Cueto and Matt Cain face off. I think that the momentum from the winning team of game 1 will propel them to a series victory and I think that team is going to be the Cincinnati Reds. Reds in 4
With last night’s Baltimore victory over the Texas Rangers in the Wild Card play-in, the stage is set for the first round of the American League Division Series. This year’s field includes teams that weren’t supposed to be in the postseason (Orioles, A’s), the all-time great postseason franchise (Yankees) and a team who has been knocking on the door for a while but has been unable to pull through (Tigers). Below is my prediction for who will be playing in the next round for a shot at the World Series.
Yankees vs. Orioles:
These two teams battled all the way to the last day of the regular season for the AL East Crown, so it’s only fitting they matchup in the first round of the playoffs.
In the past few postseasons, the Yankees have been unable to get the big hit with RISP, something that also plagued them in the 2012 regular season. They are a team that relies heavily on the HR, but in the playoffs, that recipe often fails. During their stretch run, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson caught fire, and the Yankees will need the two of them to drive in Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki, who have done a wonderful job setting the table. The Yankees pitching will be lead by C.C. Sabathia, who had an up and down year but is still a bona-fide ace. The Yankees biggest question mark might be one that has never been an issue before, as Mariano Rivera is replaced by Rafael Soriano this time around. Though Soriano had a wonderful year recording 42 saves, nobody can truly fill in for the great Mariano. The Yankees are hoping that Soriano does a serviceable and the supporting cast takes care of the rest.
The Orioles were supposed to fade a long time ago. The AL East was supposed to be a three-horse race, which it turned out to be, though the Orioles took the place held by the Boston Red Sox for the past decade. Though they don’t do anything particularly spectacular in either their lineup or starting rotation, this team has found ways to win all season long. The Orioles are an inexperienced playoff team, which didn’t seem to faze them at all as they ousted to Texas Rangers in the play-in game last night. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters will need to carry their offense through this series, and the presence of rookie Manny Machado provides the Orioles with a young 5 tool player in the making. While the Orioles don’t have a pitcher of the Justin Verlander caliber, they have a rotation that has given Manager Buck Showalter a chance in every game this season. Wei Yin-Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman have all put up solid seasons in a tough division. Oriole closer Jim Johnson converted a stellar 51 saves this year, blowing only 3 which was a main reason for their extra inning dominance.
Predicition: The Yankees and Orioles know each other well. The Yankees have the players who have been here before, know what to expect and have the rings to prove it. While I believe the Orioles have been gritty and shocked us all to get to this point, their run will end in the Bronx. The Orioles pitches haven’t faced a monster like October baseball in Yankee Stadium and they will prove to be in over their heads: Yankees in 4.
Tigers vs. Athletics
The AL Central Champion Tigers and AL West Champion Athletics both fought up-hill most of the season to reach this point. While the Tigers were disappointing most of the season as they chased down the Chicago White Sox, the Oakland A’s were the biggest surprise in baseball as they posted the best record since the All-Star break and catapulted over both the Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels.
The Athletics are led by Cuban Rookie Yoenis Cespedes, who jumped into the #3 hole and blasted 23 HRs while hitting .292 and stealing 16 bags. Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick, who was traded from the Boston Red Sox for Andrew Bailey last offseason, protected Cespedes in a lineup featuring players that casual baseball fans don’t know about. Like the Baltimore Orioles, the Oakland A’s don’t necessarily feature an Ace, but have been winning all season long with a solid cast of pitchers who were relatively unknown. Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin will all be getting the ball in the first playoff series, as most of their rotation will be making their postseason debut. Grant Balfour was reinserted in the closer role in August and killed it for Oakland, nailing down 17 straight saves as the A’s caught the Rangers. He will need to continue his success, as Oakland isn’t the type of team who will blow anybody out.
As mentioned before, the Detroit Tigers had a fairly disappointing season. After losing in the ALCS last year, they signed free agent Prince Fielder and were expected the blow the AL Central away. They got off to a slow start and finally caught Chicago in the last two weeks, clinching the division with just a few games left. Lead by the Triple Crown winning Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers are a top-heavy team that relies on their stars to carry them. Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson helped Miggy provide the offensive punch for a team that has perhaps the best pitcher in the game. Having Justin Verlander in a short series is a huge advantage. The reigning AL MVP put up another unbelievable season, notching 17 wins and posting a 2.84 ERA. When Detroit can start him twice in a short series, and fill in the other spots with reliable Doug Fister and somewhat unpredictable Max Scherzer, they feature a rotation unmatched by any in the AL. Their closer Jose Valverde always make Tigers fan sweat, but does a good job closing the deal more often than not.
Prediction: Both these teams had to play good ball down the stretch to find themselves in the playoffs. The Oakland A’s have been on a magical ride all season long, as Bob Melvin is easily the Manager of the Year in the AL. However, the Tigers have more experience and more fire power in both their lineup and pitching staff. Like the Orioles, the A’s magical ride comes to an end, but not before they put up a good fight: Tigers in 5.
The starters for tonight’s American League winner-take-all wildcard game have been tagged and I’m scratching my head over Buck Showalter’s decision to start Joe Saunders. When you see Joe Saunders vs. Yu Darvish the very first word that should come to mind is mismatch. Yu Darvish had a very good first year in the major leagues going 16-9 while striking out 221 hitters in 191.1 IP. His 3.90 ERA is a bit high for a “staff ace” but his xFIP of 3.52 would suggest he was hurt by pitching half his games in the hitter friendly confines of Arlington Ballpark. Joe Saunders on the other hand was 9-13 while striking out 112 hitters in 174.2 IP. His ERA of 4.07 was close to that of Darvish but given that his xFIP was 4.25 he was not nearly as effective in the starting pitching role in 2012.
Despite the pedestrian numbers posted by Saunders he does do one thing extremely well, which is he gets left-handed hitters out. Lefties are hitting just .198/.222/.229 against Saunders this year. Now if this were 2008 and Saunders was facing the Philadelphia Phillies I’d tip my cap to Buck for putting a mediocre pitcher in a big game in order to neutralize a lineup held together by lefty power hitters (most notably Chase Utley and Ryan Howard). But this isn’t 2008 and he’s not facing the Phillies tonight. He’s facing the 2012 Texas Rangers who are a heavily right-handed team with the exception of Josh Hamilton. In fact all Ron Washington has to do is bench David Murphy and Mitch Moreland tonight and he can run out a lineup of 8 right-handed hitters and Josh Hamilton to absolutely pummel Joe Saunders and the Baltimore Orioles. And since David Murphy and Mitch Moreland are not Chase Utley and Ryan Howard there is no reason to doubt this is exactly what Ron will do. His lineup should look something like this:
- SS – Elvis Andrus (.971)
- 2B – Ian Kinsler (1.464)
- RF – Josh Hamilton (1.317)
- 3B – Adrian Beltre (.680)
- LF – Nelson Cruz (.950)
- 1B – Michael Young (1.045)
- DH – Mike Napoli (n/a)
- C – Geovany Soto (2.083)
- CF – Craig Gentry (n/a)
The numbers in parentheses represent the career OPS for each respective hitter against Joe Saunders (Napoli and Gentry have never faced him). As you can see all of these guys, with the exception of Beltre, have absolutely raked against Saunders. I hate to question Showalter who’s led these Orioles to an impressive playoff berth through timely hitting and 16 extra inning wins in a row but this decision seems downright foolish to me. Let’s hope he’s got some more magic up his sleeve come 8:37 PM EST tonight.
This is about as close as it gets. With 6 games left, the New York Yankees have the slimmest of division leads over the Baltimore Orioles, as they enter play tonight with a mere 1 game advantage. Tampa Bay is only 4 games out of first as well, meaning there is a lot to be determined in the next week. The New York Yankees play three games against two out of contention teams, Toronto and Boston. While each of these opponents have had a disappointing season, we all know that both of them would love to help contribute in the Yankees losing out in the divisional race. It is up to the Bronx Bombers to make sure that it doesn’t happen!
Thankfully for the Yankees, the Orioles and Rays will play each other the final three games of the season, meaning if they take care of their business, there is a good chance those two squads will knock inflict enough damage to the other to allow the Yanks to escape with the crown. In years past, making the playoffs as the Wild Card was just as effective as clinching a division, but with this years rule change of a Wild Card play-in game, the importance of capturing the division has never been greater.
The Yankees have a lot of question marks this year. The recent woes of both Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova lead the team to believe they really don’t have a fourth starter. The bats have been criticized to be all of nothing, that is if the Yanks don’t hit HRs, they don’t usually win. However, I believe their solid record against both the Red Sox and Blue Jays this year will stay true to form during the last 6 games. During a season in which the Yankees have been ravaged by injuries, it is looking as if their health might be at an all-time high entering the post season. Andy Pettitte and Brett Gardner (in a defensive and pinch running role) have recently rejoined the club, and now the Yanks eagerly wait for Mark Teixeira to battle back from his ailment.
Once the Yankees make it into the playoffs, I truly feel they would be a tough out for any opponent. The ability to throw CC, Andy and the overachieving Hiroki Kuroda in the first three games of any series will keep the Yankees in any series. If players like Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and ARod can somehow snap out of some of their recent woes, which they are all capable of, the Yanks still have as potent of an offense as their is in baseball. The acquisition of Ichiro Suzuki seems to have invigorated the veteran outfielder, and his recent contributions are a huge reason they are still in first place today. If all these guys follow the lead of their captain and carry themselves like Jeter does in October, I still like my Yankees chances to capture the crown.
The next week will be fascinating to watch. I’ll admit that I thought Baltimore would have fallen back by now, but they have played unbelievable in September. I figured Tampa Bay would be a factor until the end, but definitely did not figure the pesky O’s would be so hard to shake. To me, this is the greatest time of the sports calendar and I can’t wait to watch this story, and the other races around the big leagues unfold. My Yankee fandom allows me to always stay optimistic (the polar opposite feeling I have when thinking about my Jets), and I truly believe when the dust settles, the Yankees will remind everyone what organization will always prevail over all others. The playoffs basically start tonight and I’m excited to see how all these teams respond. Enjoy your hardball!
Coaches and management get blamed for all sorts of things, from poor lineup changes to terrible trades to moronic publicity stunts. What Davey Johnson and his staff announced this morning might be the biggest blunder in recent memory. After the season long speculation over whether or not the Nationals would bench their Ace, Stephen Strasburg, Johnson announced this morning that his star played his last game of the season yesterday. Initially, the plan was that Wednesday’s start against the Mets would have been his last game of the season, but Johnson and his staff discussed that they felt he needed to stop now. They made claims and accusations saying that Strasburg was in his own head and that the innings limit they announced at the beginning of the season was getting to him. He might have been in his own head and the doctor’s ordered limit might have been reached, but does that make Strasburg’s benching the correct decision?…No!
Stephen Strasburg was one of the best pitchers in all of college baseball when he was playing for the San Diego State Aztecs. Then, ESPN described him as the “most-hyped pick in draft history.” Strasburg recorded a franchise best 14 strikeouts in his debut with the Nationals and proved to the world why he was so coveted. When he entered the league as the Ace for Nationals, he was thought to be their new savior. After suffering a terrible shoulder injury in his sophomore year with the Nats, Strasburg was out for the season and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. After a full year of rehab and practice, Strasburg had his cleats on and was ready to go on opening day. The only problem for Strasburg was that his coaching and medical staff placed a 160 inning pitching limit on him just for precaution. Little did the Nationals know how their season would turn out.
The Washington Nationals are one of only two teams whom have never made the World Series, the Seattle Mariners being the other. The Nats had consistently found themselves at the bottom of the NL East year after year. But with draft picks like Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nats were building a team to be proud of. No one expected the Nats to be a playoff team this year but they have emerged as one of the best teams in all of baseball. The main reason behind their emergence is the fact that they have the best pitching staff in all of baseball. And who was at the forefront of said pitching staff? That’s right, Strasburg. So how can a team with its first ever real chance to make it to the World Series dig their own grave and bench their star? I don’t know.
I completely understand that they are just being cautious with their franchise player, but how can you justify potentially ruining your most successful season ever just on speculation. For all we know Strasburg will be just fine and his shoulder is perfect. He hasn’t shown any signs of his injury re-emerging and he is in the midst of a Cy Young caliber season (15-6 3.16 ERA 197 K’s 1.15 WHIP). Strasburg made his first ever All Star team this year and is currently ranked in the top 5 in strikeouts in all of baseball…but not for long. I mean call me crazy but don’t you build your team around these young phenoms just so you can get to the point that the Nationals are currently poised to get to? Who says that the Nationals will ever been in position to win the NL East again let alone even make the playoffs? What if benching Strasburg only infuriates him and makes him sign with someone like the Yankees when he is a Free Agent? In my mind, when you have a chance to win you do everything in your power to make it happen.
I can’t help but think this is one of the biggest mistakes ever made from a front office perspective. I mean they are the God damn Washington Nationals, probably the most irrelevant team in American sports up until last season. This was their opportunity to shine and show the world that they are a team to recon with. They have one of the weaker batting lineups in Baseball and the worst offense of any of the potential playoff teams. The only thing that was going to prevent them from being swept in the Divisional Series was the fact that they had a stellar starting rotation. Well now their starting rotation is no longer stellar and you can expect the Nats to be swept in the first round by either of the NL wildcard teams because without Strasburg the Nationals are just another average team. Great job to Davey Johnson and the Nationals front office because you have just done enough to ruin your chance for relevancy.