Posted on: July 22, 2011 9:35 pm

Prediction: 2011 AL Cy Young

Yesterday five of the American League's top Cy Young candidates were on display. As we approach the final two months of the regular season, each start takes on more and more importance. So who's the favorite at this point?
C.J. Wilson and the Texas Rangers took on Jered Weaver and the Los Angeles Angels in the rubber game of a crucial three-game set. Both aces were flawless: Weaver pitched seven shutout innings, Wilson tossed a complete game. The lone run came in the second inning when outfielder Endy Chavez - known for his defensive ability - dropped a Mike Trout fly ball, allowing second baseman Howie Kendrick to score. Weaver lowered his ML-best ERA to 1.81.
Over 2,000 miles away, the Tampa Bay Rays were able to salvage a split of a four-game series with the Yankees. C.C. Sabathia took on James Shields in what was a matchup of two of the game's premier hurlers. Sabathia went the distance, allowing two runs on five hits. Shields was equally brilliant, his only blunder a Robinson Cano rbi double in the eighth inning.
We went west, then east. Now we're talking central. The Tigers sent ace Justin Verlander to the hill as they attempted to take first place in the AL Central. With his blistering fastball and devastating off speed stuff, Verlander threw eight innings of one-run ball.
At this point, Jered Weaver has to be considered the front runner. The LA ace is 13-4 with a 1.81 ERA. Although his numbers are impressive, what furthers Weaver's case is the fact that he plays for a team ranked 24th in the league in total runs scored.
Doesn't this situation seem all too familiar? Last season, Felix Hernandez won the coveted award in the American League. The Mariners scored a paltry 513 runs all season, good for last in the league. The Angels may not be the Seattle Mariners - they are actually capable of outscoring the Los Angeles Galaxy - but they are no offensive juggernaut.
As the Angels attempt to dethrone the Rangers in the AL West down the stretch, much of the burden will fall on Weaver's shoulders. If he is truly a Cy Young-worthy, LA will be in the race until the season's final days. The halos still have ten games against the defending American League champions before the end of the regular season.
Last night was impressive: the 2x All Star beat one of the league's best offenses with virtually no run support. But Jered Weaver will need more of these types of performances if he wants to become the second straight Cy Young Award winner from the AL West.
Posted on: July 21, 2011 7:50 pm
Edited on: July 21, 2011 8:02 pm

Bye Bye, Beltran

Today the Mets fell 6-2 to the St. Louis Cardinals. Currently eight games back in the NL Wild Card race, it is now almost certain that - barring a 1978 Yankees-like miracle - The Amazins' will not play October baseball this year. The Phillies and the Braves are arguably the two best teams in the National League; they will cruise into the postseason.
Now that the Mets are, in all likelihood, out of the playoff race, all eyes are on general manager Sandy Alderson. The 63-year-old made his first major move last week by trading closer Francisco Rodriguez - a deal that saved New York from a hefty 1$17.5 million vesting option for 2012 (an option that Rodriguez waived shortly after he arrived in Milwaukee).
The next challenge for Alderson will be dealing outfielder Carlos Beltran. Now in the seventh and final year of his $119 million contract, Beltran is almost surely playing his final games in a Mets uniform. In fact, with New York embarking on a 10-game road trip that will keep them away from Citi Field until Aug. 1, today was probably Beltran's last home game in Flushing. The 6x All-Star has been linked to as many as ten teams, but the Phillies, Red Sox, Giants, and Braves have emerged as the favorites.
Beltran has 15 hr and 61 rbi, hitting at a .293 clip. He also leads the Majors with 30 doubles. Even more impressive, however, has been his ability to stay on the field. Beltran ranks second on his team in games played with 93. This, of course, is coming off a season in which the 3x Gold Glove Award winner played his first game on July 15 following a major knee surgery.
With Beltran being the best position player on the market, it is Alderson's job to land a top prospect for his services. The Harvard Law School grad. has indicated that the Mets are willing to pay at least some of the $7 million remaining on Beltran's deal this year, especially if that means securing better talent in exchange. The switch-hitting outfielder will surely be able to help a contending team the rest of the summer and in the postseason. It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when: Beltran will soon be dealt, likely before the July 31 trade deadline.
Although Carlos has become a fan-favorite this year, it is Alderson's job to build for the future - even if that means severing emotional ties between fans and players. It's time to face reality: the Mets are not catching Atlanta. The Mets no longer have any reason to keep Carlos Beltran. They cannot watch him walk away at the end of the season uncompensated.

Category: MLB
Posted on: July 18, 2011 5:12 pm

Ubaldo Jimenez's Trade Value

The Colorado Rockies have a nice assortment of young talent, namely shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, center fielder Carlos Gonzalez, and starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. Although they will probably fall short of the postseason this year, Colorado is by no means a bad team. In the weak NL West, this is a team that should be able to contend for many years into the future. So why are they considering trading their best pitcher?
To start, Jimenez is easily the best pitcher in this year's trade market. What makes him even more enticing is his contract: he is set to make $2.8 million this year and $4.2 million in 2012. 2013 and 2014 are club option years in which the ace would make $5.75 million and $8 million respectively. Therefore it is likely that teams would overpay for the 27-year-old, especially when you consider the fact that two of the teams looking for a top-0f-the-rotation starter are the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
In shopping Jimenez, Rockies' GM Dan O'Dowd is simply reacting to a weak market. The fact that Ubaldo is so far superior to the other pitchers in this year's market makes at least listening to offers a no-brainer. The Rockies will not trade Jimenez unless some team - prospectively the Yankees or Red Sox - are willing to give up their very best prospects.
The Yankees have reportedly discussed a possible trade with O'Dowd. Unsurprisingly, Colorado is asking New York for not one, not two, not three, but four of their best prospects (LeBron hasn't made any noise in a while, I figured the reference was appropriate). The Rockies want starters Ivan Nova, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances as well as catcher Jesus Montero. Although Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has indicated that he is willing to depart with Montero, the three aforementioned starters have been deemed off-limits.
Will the Yankees ultimately put together a package that sends Jimenez to the Bronx? Surely he would make New York an edge in the postseason.
The righty is 5-8 with a 4.08 ERA this season. Although he struggled early on, Jimenez has begun to resemble the man who began last season with a 15-1 record. Since June 1, Ubaldo has not surrendered more than three earned runs in any of his starts. With his mid-to-high 90's fastball and devastating off-speed pitches, Jimenez has Cy Young-type stuff.
But for all of his positives, Ubaldo is not quite as good as he seems. He has a 5-8 record and 4.08 ERA pitching in the NL West. Arizona, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego are certainly not offensive juggernauts. What happens to the 2010 NL All-Star Game starter when he has to face the lethal lineups in American League? Or Milwaukee and St. Louis in the NL Central (Cincinnati has reportedly demonstrated interest in Jimenez)?
If a deal is made for Ubaldo, the Rockies will likely have robbed their trading partner. Why would you give up the best of your farm system for a man with zero postseason experience, a delivery that screams tommy-john surgery, and a fastball with declining velocity? Because he's the only guy on the market that can actually make a difference this year.
Category: MLB
Posted on: June 20, 2011 4:32 pm

Albert Pujols to the DL

Early in spring training, the St. Louis Cardinals received the devastating news that their ace, Adam Wainwright, would need to have Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2011 season. The runner-up for last year's NL Cy Young Award, Wainwright went 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA. The 29-year-old was expected to anchor a rotation this season that would need to be at its best in order to compete with division rivals Milwaukee and Cincinnati.
Despite losing Wainwright, St. Louis has remained very much a part of the NL Central race. The Cardinals are currently tied with Milwaukee for first place; last year's champions - the Reds - trail by two games. With three legitimate playoff contenders, the central has undoubtedly developed into one of the best divisions in baseball. Even the perennial bottom-feeding Pittsburgh Pirates (35-36) are playing decent ball this year.
If there is one player that the Cards cannot afford to lose, it's Albert Pujols. It's hard to think of many other situations around the league where a player means more to his team. That is precisely why today's news is so disturbing for the St. Louis faithful.
The 9X All-Star first baseman will reportedly miss 4-6 weeks with a fractured left forearm. The injury occurred on a play when Pujols was pulled off the first base bag in an attempt to tag Kansas City infielder Wilson Betemit. Pujols leads his team in runs (52), is tied for first in home runs (17), and is second in RBIs (45).
It's June 20. Albert Pujols has 17 HR and 45 RBIs. And we're talking about a year in which Pujols is "struggling" at the plate. Albeit a down year by his standards, the 3X NL MVP is still an invaluable piece of St. Louis' core. He is still the most feared bat in all of baseball. Without "the machine", there is a monstrous void in the middle of this lineup. Lance Berkman (.308, 17HR, 51 RBI) is having an excellent year; but he's no Albert Pujols. As players such as Berkman and Matt Holliday are now forced to shoulder more of the load, their production will decrease. One of the main reasons why these players have success is because of the protection that Pujols provides.
Losing Wainwright was bad, this is much worse. Although Wainwright is certainly St. Louis' best pitcher, he's only playing once every five days. Albert Pujols has never played less than 143 games in his career. Why is he called the machine? the dependability, the consistency. Cardinals fans know that every single year their first baseman will be among one of the best players in the game.
At the end of this season, there is a possibility that the Cardinals lose Pujols to free agency. Over the next four to six weeks, this franchise will get a taste of life without Albert. My prediction - the Cardinals will have difficulty staying atop this division.
There is a silver lining here. Pujols has never been injury-prone throughout his career. The injury coupled with a slight decrease in production this season may have lowered his value to potential suitors. Of course, this is all speculation. Pujols could return from injury and play like an MVP. But, When he hits free agency this summer, potential big spenders (such as the Cubs) now may be less inclined to throw A-Rod-like money at the 6X Silver Slugger Award Recipient. The result: St. Louis may have a better shot at signing their first baseman.
For the next four to six weeks, Cardinals fans will miss their best player. All they can hope is that the rest of this lineup does enough to keep this team afloat until old reliable number five returns.
Posted on: June 8, 2011 5:12 pm

Home Run Celebrations

At just 16 years of age, Bryce Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Dubbed "the most exciting prodigy since LeBron" by reputable baseball writer Tom Verducci, Harper was taken first overall by the Washington Nationals. The Las Vegas native carries more hype than even Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey Jr. With all that praise comes a sense of entitlement. This pretentiousness was on display Monday night. Harper hit a sixth-inning home run off of Greensboro Grasshoppers pitcher Zachary Neal in a Class A South Atlantic League game. He slowly trotted out of the batters box, marveling at his 14th round-tripper of the year. As Neal expressed his discontent at Harper's display, the 18-year-old phenom puckered his lips, showing up Neal.
Last night, there was more demeaning post-home run jubilation. In the top of the fifth inning of the series opener of a crucial three-game set between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, Ortiz was resentful at rookie Hector Noesi's inside fastball. In all likelihood, the pitch was a response to Boston starter Jon Lester's hitting Russell Martin and Mark Teixeira earlier in the game. The next pitch, Big Papi hit a two-run shot to right field then flipped his bat. Ortiz called it "just another home run for Papi."
Are either of these celebrations justified? I'll give you a hint. Only one of these two players has 363 career home runs and two World Series rings.
The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is arguably the best in sports. Big Papi is a proven slugger, one who has terrorized the Yankees for years. After being brushed back by an inside fastball, Papi was taking pride in his handiwork. So what if he wants to take his time leaving the box? He's David Ortiz; his job is to irk the illustrious pinstriped ball club. He wasn't showing up Mariano Rivera, it was Hector Noesi. Joe Girardi can cry all he wants (the Yankees manager said "I didn't care for it", regarding Papi's celebration): in probably the most heated rivalry in sports, hot-dogging is fair play.
Mr. Harper is a different story. Today is the one-year anniversary of Stephen Strasburg's debut, in which he struck out 14 over seven innings. He was pitching a game in the Major Leagues. I'm pretty sure I didn't see him celebrating as he dominated the overmatched Pirates lineup. Bryce Harper hit a home run in a Class A South Atlantic League game. Harper has talent - his .342 avg, 14 hr, and 43 RBI are a testament to this. Regardless, he's still just a prospect. At 18 years old, what right does he have to show up opposing pitchers? When he gets called up, this incident will be remembered by his Major League teammates. Before he gets to the Bigs, Harper has to learn what humility is. As talented as he may be, the future Nats star needs a reality check.
Posted on: June 8, 2011 8:12 am
Edited on: June 8, 2011 5:07 pm

The Texas Rangers: Relievers Turned Starters

At the 2007 trade deadline, the Rangers traded closer Eric Gagne to the Boston Red Sox. To fill his role, Texas went to their oft-called upon set up man from the previous year. C.J. Wilson believed he had the stuff to become a top of the line starting pitcher. But, in '07, he'd have to settle for the bullpen. In 2008, despite posting an ERA over six, Wilson converted 24 of 28 save opportunities. The next year, due to a shaky '08 campaign, the California native was shunted to the set-up role; Frank Francisco became the team's closer. Although he was pitching well, Wilson knew he was capable of more.
Last year, Texas made an improbable run to the World Series. A big reason why: C.J. Wilson emerged as one of the best starting pitchers in the American League. He went 15-8 with an impressive 3.35 ERA. The same man who fought dearly for a spot in the rotation during spring training ended up leading his team in both wins and ERA.
After the departure of ace Cliff Lee in free agency, it was clear that Wilson would be Texas' No. 1 coming into this year. The 30-year-old, who advocates a "straight edge" way of life, hasn't disappointed: 5-3, 3.32 ERA in 2011.
It worked once for the Rangers, so why not give it another shot? That's exactly what they did. As a reliever in 2010, Alexi Ogando went 4-1 with a 1.30 ERA. In spring training, Texas lost Tommy Hunter - their ALCS game 4 starter - to injury. In need of another starter, the Rangers looked to their impressive 27-year-old reliever. Thus far, it's hard not to say that Alexi Ogando has been the best starter for the AL West leaders. In 11 starts, Ogando is 6-0 with a 2.20 ERA.
Without Lee, Texas' pitching was expected to struggle this year. Early season injuries to outfielders Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz only increased the burden on this supposedly "weak" rotation. The Rangers' young staff has exceeded expectations, currently ranked tenth in team ERA and fourth in wins. All of Texas' starters have been impressive; but the best? Alexi Ogando: a converted reliever.
With Hamilton and Cruz back in the lineup, Texas is improving; winning their last four series and opening up a 2.5 game lead in the always tight AL West. This team will score enough runs, you can be sure of that. But, come October, the question will be whether or not the rotation is formidable enough to make another deep postseason run. The answer to that will fall largely on the shoulders of the two converted relievers: C.J. Wilson & Alexi Ogando.

Posted on: May 30, 2011 3:46 pm

Hello, Cleveland!

Parity is a word often used regarding equality among NFL teams. There's two main reasons why it exists: free agency and the salary cap. Seemingly contradictory, these two elements have created a system where every team at least should be able to compete every year. Obviously it doesn't turn out this way: it's no coincidence that the Patriots and Steelers have become perennial Super Bowl contenders over recent years.
Baseball is different. The lack of a salary cap allows the teams with the greatest financial aptitude (Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies) to dominate in the free agency market. New York, Boston, and Philadelphia - all ranked in the top four in MLB payrolls in 2010 - are three of the best teams in baseball; and it makes sense too.
Surprisingly, many financially-limited MLB teams find a way to compete every year. A recent example would be the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, who were beaten by the Phillies in five games in the World Series.
It's Monday, May 30. Besides being the day that commemorates the members of the U.S. military that have passed away during service, Memorial Day serves as a measuring point of sorts for Major League Baseball teams. It may still be early, yes. Yet, at this point, we are beginning to see who will still be contending at season's end.
There are currently two division leaders who - in terms of pay rolls - ranked 24th and 25th respectively in 2010. I'm talking about the Cleveland Indians and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Cleveland currently holds a six-game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. Picked by most to finish at or near the bottom of this division, the Indians are the league's biggest surprise thus far. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera has been Cleveland's best offensive player. But, the main reason for their success is their starting rotation. Do they have staying power? The only team I could see catching this young group is the Detroit Tigers. Kansas City is still a year or two away, Minnesota has dug themselves way too big of a hole, and Chicago is a mess.
And what about those Arizona Diamondbacks? Kirk Gibson, in his first full season as manager, has created a new culture in the locker room. Unlike other years, the players now expect to win on a nightly basis. The D-Backs are currently leading the World Champion San Francisco Giants by half a game. This team may be young; but, due to recent developments, they could certainly contend in this division. Two major, season-ending injuries over the past week - Buster Posey and Jorge De La Rosa - have weakened the division's two "best" teams (San Francisco and Colorado). This alone may allow Arizona to finish on top.
I know, it's not even June yet. Regardless, the fact that these teams are leading their respective divisions is good news for Major League Baseball. Maybe the teams with the most money don't always win... Well, they usually do. Unless, of course, we're talking about the Mets.
Posted on: May 9, 2011 11:37 am
Edited on: May 9, 2011 11:54 am

The Next "King Felix"

Superior young pitching is a highly valued commodity in today's MLB. When you look around the league, there are a lot of special young arms. As baseball moves out of the steroid era, this youth is ever so more important. Although there are some teams who have the financial aptitude to assemble All-Star studded rotations through free agency and trades - such as the Phillies, Red Sox, and Yankees - most clubs rely on prospects that they must develop themselves.
The defending World Champion San Francisco Giants' surprising postseason run was fueled by the success of their rotation. In Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants had four aces. Interestingly enough, these four stars were all home grown. San Francisco drafted Cain 25th overall in the first round of the 2002 draft, Sanchez in the 27th round in 2004, Lincecum 10th overall in the first round in 2006, and Bumgarner 10th overall in the first round in 2007.
This kind of success in the draft is a rarity. However, there are an increasing number of teams trying to follow in San Francisco's footsteps by winning with young pitching. Look at the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, just to name a few. As evidenced by San Francisco last Fall, good pitching can compensate for offensive inefficiencies. Going into last year's postseason, the Giants weren't supposed to beat the Phillies because of their weak offense. It didn't matter. Philadelphia's power-laden lineup wasn't able to overcome San Francisco's young aces.
Although they have struggled of late , the Seattle Mariners know a thing or two about developing young pitching. Seattle traded for Randy Johnson, a player with severe control issues, early in his career. After a rocky start, including multiple 10-walk outings, Johnson broke out during his second season in the emerald city (he threw a no-hitter on June 2, 1990, against the Detroit Tigers). We all know how the rest of the big unit's career turned out.
Then there's King Felix, who won last year's AL Cy Young Award despite playing for a 100-loss team. The 25-year-old, who may soon find himself in pinstripes, is now arguably the game's best pitcher. In 2006, in order to avoid overworking their best prospect, Seattle limited Hernandez to 200 innings total (including spring training). I think it's safe to say that their strategy has worked out. Limiting young pitchers is tough, especially when they are so talented. The Washington Nationals learned that the hard way with Stephen Strasburg.
Seattle is choosing to do what has worked for them in the past. Michael Pineda is one of the best young pitchers in today's game. At 6-7, 260, the 22-year-old dominates opposing hitters with his mid- to high-90's fastball. So far this year, Pineda is 4-2 with a 2.583 ERA. Seattle has indicated that, similar to King Felix in 2006, Pineda will have an innings limit this year.
The Mariners are making the right decision. Why risk an injury when there is no hope of contending anyway? By the looks of it, Pineda could develop into one of the league's best pitchers (he already may be). With Felix Hernandez's possible departure on the horizon, Seattle can't afford to compromise the future of his replacement. I would sure love to see what kind of numbers this kid could put up in a full season of work this year. Yet, I would love it even more to see him dominate with that 95+ mph fastball for many years into the future.
Category: MLB
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