Sunday, March 31, 2013


"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops."

-- Bart Giamatti

All it takes, I know,
Is just that crack,
The crowd's first roar,

To wash away the
pain, gloom, sorrow
of seasons yore.

So, like a little girl,
I gleefully lay my outfit
The night before.
Muggy today, a
pop of the mitt, a whiff of
the grass, swish of the
bat in the April air,
and two little words: 'Play ball! '
Listening on the radio for play-by-play,
I hear, "Welcome to Opening Day".
Despite cold temperatures for today's game,
A sellout crowd has came.
I turn my attention to the bullpen.
The starting pitcher is number 10.
Managers present line-ups
Pitcher throws warm up.
Umpire yells, "Play Ball!"
Fielders heed the call.
Innings one, two and three,
No score too be.
Inning five,
Visitors come alive
Back-to-back singles down the line.
Sacrifice fly - position nine.
No one at fault,
But one run results.
Inning eight,
Still not too late.
The home team takes their swings.
A base hit and stolen base, leadoff would bring.
Will this one get a hit?
No, second base smothers it.
Fly ball and a play at the plate.
A perfect throw ends the eighth.
I review the pitcher's stats,
As the visitors come to bat.
Four straight balls and a walk,
Pitching coach comes out too talk.
A new pitcher trots to the mound.
Three feared sluggers shut down.
Bottom of the ninth,
Climax at its height.
An error on a bad hop.
Line drive over shortstop.
Fans express belief,
Even with the closer now in relief.
Double off the fence.
The crowd is in suspense.
Rounding third, anxiously awaiting the final word.
This is what I heard.
"Here comes the winning run",
Safe! and "That's a winner" 2-1.
Spectators approve with a deafening roar,
Seconds later, fireworks would soar.
Baseball and America's pastime is my reason,
I think I'll go to another game this season.
--Don Angel

Baseball is the President tossing out the first ball of the season and a scrubby schoolboy playing catch with his dad on a Mississippi farm. A tall, thin old man waving a scorecard from the corner of his dugout. That's baseball. And so is the big, fat guy with a bulbous nose running home one of his 714 home runs.

There's a man in Mobile who remembers that Honus Wagner hit a triple in Pittsburgh forty-six years ago. That's baseball. So is the scout reporting that a sixteen year old pitcher in Cheyenne is a coming Walter Johnson. Baseball is a spirited race of man against man, reflex against reflex. A game of inches. Every skill is measured. Every heroic, every failing is seen and cheered, or booed. And then becomes a statistic.

In baseball democracy shines its clearest. The only race that matters is the race to the bag. The creed is the rulebook. Color merely something to distinguish one team's uniform from another.

Baseball is a rookie. His experience no bigger than the lump in his throat as he begins fulfillment of his dream. It's a veteran too, a tired old man of thirty-five hoping that those aching muscles can pull him through another sweltering August and September. Nicknames are baseball, names like Zeke and Pie and Kiki and Home Run and Cracker and Dizzy and Dazzy.

Baseball is the cool, clear eyes of Rogers Hornsby. The flashing spikes of Ty Cobb, an over aged pixie named Rabbit Maranville.

Baseball just a game as simple as a ball and bat. Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes. A sport, a business and sometimes almost even a religion.

Why the fairy tale of Willie Mays making a brilliant World's Series catch. And then dashing off to play stick ball in the street with his teenage pals. That's baseball. So is the husky voice of a doomed Lou Gehrig saying., "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”

Baseball is cigar smoke, hot roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, ladies day, "Down in Front", Take Me Out to the Ball Game, and the Star Spangled Banner.

Baseball is a tongue tied kid from Georgia growing up to be an announcer and praising the Lord for showing him the way to Cooperstown. This is a game for America. Still a game for America, this baseball! Thank you.

-- Ernie Harwell

Let me show you a land
the greatest of all
with borders that stretch
from the spring to the fall

Emerald fields plush with diamonds
and pearls gleaming white
with meatballs becoming taters
soaring into the night

A land of hot corners
where hoses throw heat
into your kitchen
where there's plenty to eat.

There's pickles, there's pepper
there's peas, and there's cheese
And shoestrings making catches
with the greatest of ease

Many eye-pleasing sights
also found on display
An ace that throws dueces,
a tailor-made double play

Ducks on a pond
wait for springing line drives
to hitch a ride home
on pop-ups and slides

This land welcomes all
to dream and to play
This land is Baseball,
It's Opening Day.

The ball is pitched
And there you are ...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

2013 Preview Washington Nationals

Washington Nationals

(2012: 98-64, 1st place NL East)
(2013: FC Prediction: 1st place NL East)

The Nationals were definitely the biggest story in baseball in 2012.  From the call up of Bryce Harper to the innings limit and eventually shutting down of Stephen Strasburg, the mainstream media couldn't seem to stay away from the Nats.  They embraced it and led the league in wins before eventually bowing out in the playoffs.

2013 should be no different in terms of results, but the Nationals probably won't have quite the media circus they had to endure last year.  This could be a positive thing, but one difference is the Nationals won't be under the radar anymore, they will have a target on their back all year long.  Strasburg will have the leash off this year and will be set free and Bryce Harper will enjoy his first full year in the big leagues.  These are just a few reasons that Wade has tabbed them as his 2013 World Series champions.

So, how do the Nationals look on paper:


Strasburg will be the ace of the staff.  With a full workload, there is no doubt in my mind he will be absolutely dominant and will be in the running for the Cy Young award.  Gio Gonzalez is a great 1A starter.  If he can avoid suspension for his ties to Biogenis (He most likely won't be suspended), then he should have another stellar season.  Jordan Zimmerman, and fellow Division 3 pitcher (Wisconsin-Stevens Point) is the number 3 and is a solid one at that.  Dan Haren will replace Edwin Jackson as the number 4.  Despite almost being a Cub, Haren looks to come into Washington and prove that he is healthy.  The cubs obviously saw something in his back that spooked them, so I'm not so sure he'll be able to do so.  Ross Detwiler is the number 5. He is about as solid as they came at the back end of the rotation and I think he is a candidate for a breakout year.

The bullpen is also very solid, especially with the addition of Rafael Soriano.  Soriano was excellent as the Yankees closer and should repeat his success in Washington.  Behind him are setup men Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard.  Both closed last year for the Nats so they will not only be primed to pitch the 7th and 8th, but will be able to fill in for Soriano if anything happens.  Henry Rodriguez throws in the triple digits and if he can find some control, he'll be dominant in the pen.  Craig Stammen, Zach Duke, and Shawn Mattheus round out a very deep pen that should be able to shorten games for the Nats.

There are a couple solid arms in the system for Washington, but none are really that close to the big leagues.  Righties AJ Cole and Lucas Giolito both have tremendous stuff, but probably won't be ready until the 2015 season.  Lefty Matt Purke is also very interesting.  He was seen as a first round talent but slipped to the Nats due to signability issues and arm problems, so if he can come back healthy, he has the stuff of a top 5 pick.

The Nationals are solid throughout the infield, starting with the face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman at third base.  When healthy, Zim is among the best in the league and he looks to have a monster 2013 in a stacked lineup.  Shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa might not hit for high averages, but both have a ton of power and a good amount of speed.  I look for Desmond to have an excellent 2013, possibly going 30/30 if all falls his way.  Adam LaRoche returns as the first baseman, and provides the Nats with a lot of power and even more leadership, along with some nice protection for Harper and Zimmerman. Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki will split the catching duties in probably the only weak spot in the Nats lineup.

In the outfield, the Nationals have Bryce Harper in left, Denard Span in center, and Jayson Werth in right.  Span came over from the Twins and gives the Nationals the leadoff hitter that they so desperately needed last year.  White Sox fans can definitely tell you how pesky Span is and I'm sure they're all glad to see him out of the AL Central.  Jayson Werth has not lived up to his huge contract, but that doesn't mean he's not a valuable player.  Werth is a solid defender and while he may have lost a step, he still has the ability to break out for 25 home runs.  Bryce Harper is prime to be an absolute superstar in this league.  The guy plays the game the way you want your superstars to, as hard as he possibly can.  He has the power to hit 30 home runs, the speed to steal 40 bases, and the ability to hit over 300, and all are not out of reach for him in 2013.  I look for Bryce to be in the running for the league MVP by season's end.

Anthony Rendon is the best of the Nationals hitting prospects.  The guy can flat out hit and if the Nationals can find a spot for him in 2013, there is no doubt in my mind that his bat is ready for the Major Leagues.  Rendon currently plays third base, but with Zimmerman there, it is definitely plausible for the Nats to move Espinosa at some point this year and let Rendon play second base.  

Since camp is pretty much done and none of these guys broke camp with the team, I just want to mention Micah Owings.  Owings, a former pitcher for teams like the Reds and Diamondbacks, was in camp for the Nationals playing the infield and I wish Owings the best in his attempt to come back as a position player.

The Nationals are a good team all the way around and I just don't envision a scenario where they don't make the playoffs and end up making a deep run.  Expectations are high in the nation's capital, but the talent on this roster is there, so they should live up to them.  Harper, Strasburg, Zimmerman, and company should be able to battle in the NL East and at the very least earn a Wild Card spot.  If you are a Nats fan, this is time for you to get excited as this is definitely the best team that they have fielded since moving out of Montreal.  Look for the Nationals to possibly be hoisting the World Series trophy in October.

Gotta go with Bryce here, as he is an absolute superstar, @Bharper3407

And also, enjoy this, the Nationals bullpen reading 50 Shades of Grey:

Friday, March 29, 2013

2013 Preview: Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds

(2012: 97-65, 1st place NL Central)
(2013: FC Prediction: 1st place NL Central)

The Reds won an astounding 97 games in 2012, and they return perhaps an even better team in 2013.  In the off-season, the Reds were able to add center fielder Shin-Soo Choo and bring back both Ryan Ludwick and Jonathan Broxton.  The Reds possess a very good starting rotation, an awesome bullpen, and a very balanced and deep lineup.  That is a very good formula for success in this league.

As long as the Reds are able to stay healthy, in my opinion, they should be able to run away from the rest of the NL Central.  They have more talent than the rest of the division and teams like the Cardinals are already dealing with injury problems to some key players.  Keep in mind, this team was one win away from beating the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants in the Division Series last year.

So how do the Reds stack up this year:

The Reds return the same starting five pitchers as they did last year.  Somehow, the Reds were able to completely avoid rotations to the starting rotation as their top 5 were the only 5 to make a start for them.  The ace is Johnny Cueto.  Cueto doesn't throw exceptionally hard, but he has a deceptive motion, great location, and awesome movement.  Bronson Arroyo is the number 2.  He is not dominant by any means, but the guy doesn't miss a start and he always keeps his team in the game.  Number 3 is Mat Latos.  He probably has the best stuff on the team, but his location can be off on occasion.  Latos definitely has the stuff to be an ace in this league and should continue to progress.  Homer Bailey and Mike Leake are the 4 and 5 and both are solid guys who have middle of the rotation stuff.  If this rotation can stay healthy again, they will have no problem keeping the Reds in the game.  

After a brief experiment in joining the rotation, Aroldis Chapman decided to remain the Reds closer.  The Cuban Missile can reach triple digits and if he can avoid a dead arm period like last year, he is about as shut down of a closer as one can be.  He is surrounded by a very solid pen.  Jonathan Broxton provides a veteran setup man who can close if asked to.  Sean Marshall is one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball.  Other guys like Sam LeCure, Jose Arredondo, Nick Masset, and Logan Ondrusek have all been successful relievers at some point in their career.  All in all, the Reds have one of the deepest bullpens in baseball.

The Reds are very deep when it comes to pitching prospects.  Robert Stephenson is probably the best of the bunch, but he won't be ready for another year or two.  Lefty Tony Cingrani and Righty Daniel Corcino are both probably ready to contribute in 2013.  Both could end up as bullpen guys, but both will be given a chance to start at some point if there as injury to the rotation.  At the worst, both could become very effective relievers in 2013.

In the infield the Reds are anchored by first baseman Joey Votto.  Votto is arguably the best left-handed hitter in baseball.  He can absolutely do it all and can even win a Gold Glove at first. Second baseman Brandon Phillips is flashy, but he backs it up.  Phillips can win a Gold Glove every year and he can also hit for average, hit for power, and steal some bases.  Shortstop Zack Frazier is solid in the field and reliable with the bat.  He won't wow you, but he can get some hits for you.  Third baseman Todd Frazier has some pop, and while he won't hit for a high average, he can give you 20 or so home runs.  The Catching duties will be split by Ryan Hanigan and youngster Devin Mesoraco.  Both are solid hitters, and while Mesoraco has more upside, Hanigan is a steady big league catcher.

In the outfield the Reds have Ryan Ludwick in left, Choo in center, and Jay Bruce in right.  Ludwick had a breakout season in 2012 and while he might not repeat the type of season he had, he should be able to provide 20 home runs.  Choo might be shaky in center on defense as he hasn't played there in the past, but he is an on base machine.  Heading into a contract year, Choo should fill the leadoff hole that the Reds so desperately needed last year.  The right fielder Jay Bruce has absolute light tower power.  He should easily hit 30 home runs and drive in 90 or so runs.  The lefty is great in the middle of the order.

The best Reds prospect is Billy Hamilton.  Hamilton absolutely flies around the bases, bringing Rickey Henderson type base stealing ability to Cincinnati.  If the Reds can find a spot for him this year, he will be a tremendous addition to the team, even if he might be a bit behind with the bat.  In full time duty, I see no reason why he can't steal 100 bases, but finding a spot, whether at short or in center, will be the problem.

Emmanuel Burris has a chance to make this team as a backup infielder, but the guy who might be able to stick is starter Armando Galarraga.  He hasn't been able to find a spot after his near perfect game, but with an injury in the rotation, Galarraga might have a rotation spot locked up.  Look for the Reds to stow him in triple A and hope they don't have to use him.

The Reds might be the most balanced team in baseball, with an extremely balanced lineup, a solid starting rotation, and probably the deepest bullpen in baseball.  Add to the fact that they are in one of the weaker divisions in baseball and that is a formula for success.  The Reds lineup is flat out scary, and if they can find a spot for Billy Hamilton, they have everything you could ever want in a lineup.  I'm not gonna say that they will win this division in a land slide, but I could definitely see them winning by a pretty wide margin and pushing to 100 win mark.

One of the best athletes on Twitter, Brandon Phillips, @DatDudeBP

Thursday, March 28, 2013

2013 Preview: Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers
2012: 88-74 (1st place, AL Central)  
Full Count Prediction: 1st place, AL Central

The Tigers' 2012 season could be summarized as "not enough."  With the big (literally) off-season signing of Prince Fielder, perhaps some unfair expectation were put on their shoulders on a squad with plenty talent, but a few glaring flaws.  

After sputtering around .500 most of the year, it was clear that Detroit was a top heavy lineup with MVP-caliber mashers in the heart of the order, but also scrubs that at times seemed like they were conspiring to erase everything nice from rally killing double-plays, botched defensive plays and wince-inducing strikeouts in clutch spots.  

Eventually, Detroit figured out it was a good enough team to breeze past the White Sox in September and after a shaky Division series, swept the Yankees (AWESOME) to advance to the World Series for the first time since 2006.  

I don't want to talk about what happened next. 

But time to forget about that.  The Tiger's had another busy winter, taking advantage of owner Mike Ilitch's deep pockets and short life remaining (the dude really, really wants to win a World Series) and should return with both a deeper lineup and a deeper rotation.  

Bad players went bye-bye, good players came in to fill the voids.  It was an off-season any team would have loved to have.  

So that's an easy AL Central title again, right?  Well, there's also a current glaring hole on this team and it starts in the 9th inning.  The ability to find a steady closer will probably determine much of the Tiger's success.  If you've read before, you know who my favorite team is from past stuff.  

Let's jump right in and find out more about the 2013 Motor City Bengals...


No problem here, right?  Detroit retains one of the deepest and talented rotations in baseball.  Max Scherzer seemed to finally straighten out his mechanics and put it all together in 2012.  I dare you to name a starter with a better strikeout rate than Mad Max.  I win because there was none.  Doug Fister looks to keep utilizing his tall frame and hilarious name to follow up another successful (albeit, injury-plagued) season.  

Deadline acquisition Anibal Sanchez cashed in with a brilliant postseason with a big contract ($80 million, five years).  Sure they may have overpaid, but in an era where Adam Wainwright gets $20 million a year, I'll take a pitcher averaging 4 WAR or higher the past three years without a single DL stint. 

Behind these three, perennial innings-eater/trade bait Rick Porcello won the final starting spot with a sizzling spring training.  While fellow young gun Drew Smyly struck out nearly a batter per inning last season, he'll be stashed in long relief in the event of an injury or Porcello trade as a quality insurance option.  Oh, and there's also a guy named Justin Verlander who's pretty good.  

Overall, it's a rotation that could be the best in all of baseball and should hold opposing lineups in check night in and night out.  Unless the Royals or White Sox or some team, schemes with baseball Satan to field a lineup of nine Pablo Sandoval clones or something, the Tigers should be able to ride pitching to an AL Division title.  

Unless...well, you knew there was a catch.  The Tiger's have opted to start 2013 with a closer-by-committee after sending highly touted flame-thrower Bruce Rondon down to Triple A Toledo and can anyone honestly name a time when a closer-by-committee went well?  At least there are veteran arms in the pen.  Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel all have experience shutting the door in the 9th inning.  

And there's still a good possibility we will see more of Rondon later in the season.  The big Venezuelan certainly has the stuff to close with an Aroldis Chapman-like fastball, but with Rick Ankiel-like control, he'll need to refine his game if he wants to close in the big leagues.  He can either be the second coming of Chapman or a poor man's Carlos Marmol.   Much of the Tiger's success will depend on which one Rondon will be.  


The 2012 season was a baseball personification of Katy Perry's, Hot n Cold.   You may now kick me in the face and take the rest of my man card's for dropping a Katy Perry reference here.  But it really was a tale of two offenses.  If the 2012 Tiger's weren't hitting 3-run bombs and posting big innings and rallies, they were shutout by rookie pitchers, hitting into rage-inducing double plays or striking out to end a rally.  

Eventually talent won out during the regular season, led by Miguel Cabrera's historic Triple Crown/MVP season but the Tiger's choose like, the worst time to go on a cold streak during the World Series.  

This maddening inconsistency shouldn't be a problem after GM Dave Dombrowski upgraded a couple of vital positions.  Veteran Torii Hunter will instantly be a major upgrade in right field over the now departed Brennan Boesch.  It's the type of signig that makes Tiger's fans crap their pants with glee.  Like I did here in December.  While DH Victor Martinez probably won't replicate his 2011 season where he hit .330 and drove in 100+, he should fit in nicely as he return's from an entire 2012 on the DL.  V-Mart will be another significant upgrade in practically every category compared to the also departed DH Delmon Young, with the only downgrade being alcohol and Antisemitism.  Welcome back Victor, we missed you.  

At the top of the order, speedy Austin Jackson looks to continue his breakout year from last year as the catalyst for the squad while continuing to steal base hits and souls of opposing hitters with his leather.  Hunter should fit in nicely at the two spot where he helped Mike Trout out last year with the Angels while Miggy Cabrera and Prince Fielder will drive in over 100 with 30+ bombs each.  Martinez will follow giving the Tiger's a lineup no one will ever want to face.  

The key will be the bottom of the order.  Look for C Alex Avila and SS Jhonny Peralta to bounce back from disappointing 2012 campaigns.  2B Omar Infante is not flashy but he's not really, really, really freakin' godawful either, which is who the Tiger's were starting at second base before Infante came over as part of the Anibal Sanchez deal.  If LF Andy Dirks can't keep it up all season, a few hot outfield prospects in Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia are waiting in the wings in Toledo.  Expect one or both of them to show their faces at Comerica at some point this summer.  

The final point.  This lineup will score runs and they will score them in bunches.   


With arguably the best rotation in baseball and best lineups in baseball, a best case situation for the Tiger's is reminiscent of last time they won it all in 1984 -- a hot start and lead the division start to finish.  Avila, Peralta, and Infante post bounce back seasons and the maddening offensive inconsistency is gone and the team puts up close to a thousand runs.  Cabrera wins the Triple Crown/MVP combo again and flips off the sabermetricians for the second year in a row.  Prince Fielder finishes second.  On the other side, Verlander wins the pitching Triple Crown and another Cy Young.  Scherzer keeps striking everyone out.  Fister, Sanchez and Porcello/Smyly all post sub 4 ERAs and win 12+ games.  Rondon is called up in April and saves 45+ games with a 27K/per 9 IP or something ridiculous like that.  

Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter provide the locker room leadership that veterans like that are expected.  The Tigers run away with the AL Central and end as the best team in the American League.  Detroit breezes through the AL playoffs, and hoists their first World Series Championship in 29 years.  Owner Mike Ilitch dies in peace, leaving a trust fund of $200 billion for the new owner to play with.  Manager Jim Leyland quits smoking.   Detroit is alive again.  The world ends immediately after the final pitch so I can die and say the Detroit Tigers were the last champions of baseball.  


All the offense and starting pitching goes to waste in the 9th inning when the closer committee can't hold a lead and Rondon's wildness makes fans yearn for the days of Papa Grande.  Torii Hunter starts to show his age.  Any one of the starters goes down for an extended period of time.  Next thing you know the Tigers are in a dogfight in the AL Central while they limp to an 87 win season (which is still probably enough to win this lousy division).  
Porcello is traded to the Cubs or something where he becomes a star for a washed up closer when Leyland and Dombrowski panic about Rondon.  In the playoffs they melt and are eliminated right away.  Mike Ilitch dies of heartbreak while the team is sold to the Ford family who hires Matt Millen as the GM.  Jim Leyland develops lung cancer and they hire Ozzie Guillen.  I give up on baseball and life, develop a diet of Cheetos and Code Red and gain 300 pounds.  


I don't like making predictions for my favorite teams.  Michigan sports has been cursed as far as I can remember and I'm superstitious enough to avoid picking a team that I have an abiding, yet unrequited love for from winning the whole thing.  But screw it.  This is the year.  At the expense of sounding like a Cubs fan, I believe that the 2013 version of the Detroit Tigers are the best Tigers' squad that I've seen in my life.  If that's not enough to win the World Series, what is?  You have to start to believe.  And I'm starting to believe.  The Tigers have a stacked, balanced lineup with the perfect blend of youth, veterans, stars and role players.  The rotation is one of the best in baseball.  

Sometime I wonder how much I take for granted guys like Verlander and Cabrera, or how rare it is when the best pitcher and best hitter in the game both play for my favorite team.  I've been burnt so many teams before but this year, I'm bold enough to call it.  The Detroit Tigers will ride their revamped lineup and stacked rotation all the way to the title.  The bullpen will do just enough to complete the championship formula.  

You have to believe you can win in order to win.  And when Bruce Rondon, Phil Coke or Justin Verlander releases the final pitch of the final game of the Fall Classic and the team runs out of the dugout to pile in the middle of the diamond, my life so far as a baseball fan will be complete.  

I'm looking forward to it.  I believe.  See you all in October.


Opening Day is Monday for the Tigers.  There are literally no more non-roster invitees to watch for as their final 25 man roster was finalized today.  However, keep an eye on Rick Porcello early to see if his sizzling spring carries over into the regular season.  Also watch Bruce Rondon in Toledo (yeah, like anyone that's not a Tiger's fan is going to do that).  Like we mentioned earlier, the kid's got great stuff but needs to harness it to be the closer we all expect him to be.  


Prince Fielder is the not the most engaging personality on Twitter, but one glimpse of his Twitter feed explains a lot of his big character.  Follow him at @RealPFielder28 .  I'd recommend following @JustinVerlander too.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2013 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays
2012: 73-89 (4th place, AL East)
Full Count Prediction: 1st Place AL East

Who's on the bandwagon?  WE ARE! After spending he better part of the last decade being a perennial doormat for the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees, the Jays decided to make some changes. 

After a 2012 with dreams of a postseason run was quickly squashed by injuries and underperforming stars, GM Alex Anthopoulos decide to go all in. The future was mortgaged as a top three farm system was dismantled and traded for Jose Reyes, RA Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera and more to adding quality pitching with speed and pop in the lineup.  

Obviously, these additions came at a cost -- five of the prospects traded were top 100 prospects .  But the rewards of such deals are potentially higher than the risks.  The 2013 version of Canada's team looks like a squad that could be poised to take over the top of the AL East and make a deep October least on paper.  

So after an offseason with more moves than a Michael Jackson tribute dance-off, which will it be? Will the Jays be last's year version of a failed Miami Marlins experiment or will it lead to Toronto's first trip to the postseason in 20 years?  Let's see what going all in does for the Blue Jays.  


For now, the top guys seem to be set after the series of offseason trades.  Knuckleballer and reigning NL Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey will anchor a staff that could be one of the AL's best after being traded from the Mets.  Perennial All-Star Josh Johnson looks to recover from an inconsistent 2012 with Miami, but he's got #1 caliber stuff.  Southpaw Mark Buehrle may not have the stuff that threw two no-no's earlier in his career, but he's still a good bet to pitch 200+ innings.  

Much of the Blue Jays success on the mound will be returning starters Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero.  Morrow can be great when healthy but injuries marred his 2012 campaign.  Romero was healthy, but lost all control, allowing the second most runs in baseball -- a year after posting a sub-three ERA.  He's on the hot seat as we speak in spring training.  

Out of the bullpen, Casey Janssen looks to replicate his success as the closer after shutting the door on 22 ballgames last season after Sergio Santos went down with an injury.  Santos will return as the setup man while veteran names like Darren Oliver and Steve Delabar to hold down the 7th and earlier.  If all goes well, with not one but two proven closers, Toronto's pen could be a big strength after a disastrous 2012.  


This should be fun.  Expect the 2013 Blue Jays to score more often than KISS at the Playboy Mansion.  Health will be a factor, but really, is health not a factor with any other team?  From top to bottom, this lineup on paper looks as balanced and explosive as any in baseball.  Speed demons Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio will rob plenty of bags for the new look Jays while Jose Bautista will drive them home.  Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout season in 2012, mashing 42 taters and gives Joey Bats some needed protection.  It's as scary as any top of the order in baseball.

At the bottom, Colby Rasmus can give them a 20/20 season, albeit, little in terms of average.  Adam Lind can mash with the best of them from the DH spot and catcher J.P. Arencibia is an underrated hitting catcher who's been tearing it up this spring.  Tattooed third-sacker Brett Lawrie will start the season on the DL, but look for the Canadian to continue breaking out when he gets back.  When Melky Cabrera comes back from a suspension, this Blue Jays lineup will score runs in bunches as one of the best, top-to-bottom lineups in least on paper.  


If all the stars align for the Blue Jays, in 2013 baseball in Canada will be alive and exciting!  RA Dickey's knuckler flutters its way past a tough AL East while Josh Johnson and Co. mops up behind him.  Romero will remember what made him a Cy Young contender only two years ago and Brandon Morrow and Mark Buehrle round it out to give the Jays the best starting rotation in the AL East.  

All the wheeling and dealing over the offseason pays off when Reyes, Bonifacio and Rasmus steal a thousand bases while the middle of the order mashes a thousand home runs while the offense scores a million runs.  Big innings are the norm.  The team collectively hits .290.  Joey Bats and Encarnacion combine for close to 100 homers together while any given guy in the order can go deep at any time.  A 100 win season and AL East crown is not out of the possibility with the Yankees fading, the Red Sox rebuilding and the Rays and Orioles figuring stuff out (like how to score).  If there was a year to wager the house and go all in, the Blue Jays picked the right one.  

Meanwhile the Steinbrenner family gets pissed and schemes with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg who runs for president of Canada and puts a ban on baseball, guns, fast food, soda, cigarettes and anything else that's fun.  But screw New York, the sky is the limit for this club and they could make fans in Canada forget about hockey all summer. 


If it all falls apart, it could fall apart fast.  Almost everyone in the lineup has had an injury history so you can see how that could be a problem.  Manager John Gibbons has a season long nightmare where half the rotation and lineup all hit the DL at some point and decides to fight every single player after they make an out, walking back to the dugout.  

RA Dickey can't control his knuckleball in the AL.  Romero still can't find the strike zone.  Buehrle starts to show his age.  Melky shrinks into David Eckstein without PEDs and is booted from the team.  There's a situation with Josh Johnson that rhymes with "rahmmy rohn."  Neither closer can close.  After a tough first half, the Rays and Yankees laugh in the Jays face while they slowly pass them in the standings, while Anthopoulos' grand experiment is left fighting for scraps with the Sox and Orioles.  Any of these things would be bad, umm kay.  

It would basically be the Canadian version of last year's Miami Marlins.  It's going all in and getting beat on the river.  It's not likely that all those scenarios will happen but they are all very possible.  The Blue Jays had better pray none of them happen all at the same time.   


Regardless of the overall record at the end of the season, this will be a fun Jays team to watch with lots of colorful personalities.  Maybe we're distracted by flashy things, but we really do think that this is the most talented team in the AL East and will wind up on top when the dust settles on the 2013 regular season.  Recent history hasn't been kind to teams with big roster shakeups but screw it.  We call it here.  The Toronto Blue Jays are your 2013 American League East Champions.  

This team has talent.  They are solid from the top to bottom of the lineup.  Their pitching rotation is worst case decent, best case electric.  The bullpen is experienced, the bench (led by veteran chemistry-maker, Mark DeRosa) is chalked with leaders.  What can we say?  It's a group of really good players, and great guys.  It will be fun to watch.  And we like cheering for the good guys.  

A 90+ win season and an AL East Championship?  We'll take it Canada!  


He's not a non-roster invitee, but at this point in spring training, what's the point?  Veteran lefty J.A. Happ was probably not very happy when the Blue Jays promptly went out and traded for Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and R.A. Dickey in moves that appeared to make him the odd man out of the Jays rotation.  

But with Ricky Romero still struggling with his control (and by "struggling" we mean "simply can't hit the strike zone") and Happ lighting it up this Grapefruit Season with a 1.89 ERA, he will probably make the Blue Jays opening roster in long relief and just may nap that 5th starting job if/when Romero struggles.  If not, he's still making $3.25 million dollars in Buffalo Triple A.  That's what I call a win-win.  


If there's a player who does Twitter right, it's RF Jose Bautista.  A big bat and a big personality, "Joey Bats" is one of the most recognizable Blue Jays both on the field and online.  Anyone who tweets photos during the home run derby is worth a follow, so follow @JoeyBats19 and his 2013 journey online.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 Preview: San Francisco Giants

San Francisco Giants
(2012: 94-68, 1st Place NL West)
(2013: FC Prediction: 1st Place NL West)

The defending World Champions enter 2013 with a target on their back and the same roster they had in 2012, so does that make them the early favorites?  The big question for the Giants is what can they do for an encore.  Led by All-Star catcher Buster Posey and a tremendous pitching staff, the Giants are fueled for another late playoff run.

Unsung heroes were the story of the Giants' postseason run last year.  Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro, and Barry Zito all were pivotal in the Giants push toward the playoffs and their eventual hoisting of the World Series trophy.  Yes, the stars like Posey and Cain were excellent, but the role players made a huge difference, and the NLCS MVP award went to Marco Scutaro (he probably deserved the World Series MVP award as well).

How do the Giants look for their repeat effort:

The starting rotation is the backbone of the Giants' success.  Matt Cain has become the anchor of the staff.  Cain is a bonafide ace in this league who gives the Giants a chance to win every time he takes the mound.  Young lefty Madison Bumgarner has continued to get better in his couple of years in the big leagues.  If Cain is the number 1 starter for the Giants, Bumgarner has become the 1A starter.  Ryan Vogelsong has excellent control and has become a very effective starter.  Vogelsong has underwhelming stuff, but he knows how to pitch.  Barry Zito has failed to live up to his giant contract, but he was awesome at the end of last year.  Zito won't be the ace he was signed to be, but the soft tossing lefty should be a solid back end starter.  The big wild card is Tim Lincecum.  Lincy has a wild motion, but he no longer has the wild hair, but how will that affect his pitching ability.  Lincecum was awful last year, but he should bounce back nicely, even if he doesn't get back to his Cy Young form. 

The bullpen is also very good for the Giants.  The eccentric bearded man, Sergio Romo, steps in for his first full season replacing the old eccentric bearded man, Brian Wilson.  In the middle and late innings, the Giants can matchup with lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopes, and righties Santiago Casilla and Niles West graduate and Skokie native George Kontos.  While Kontos is still young, the rest of the pen is very experienced and all of them have a history of success.

The best prospect in the Giants' system is right hander Kyle Crick.  Crick has excellent stuff, but the 2011 first round pick probably won't be ready until late 2014 or the start of 2015.  For now, the Giants will have to roll with what they have at the big league level.

The Kung Fu Panda (Pablo Sandoval) leads the way for the Giants infielders.  The switch hitting third baseman has the rare ability to hit for average and power.  The shortstop is light hitting Brandon Crawford.  He is great with the glove, but Crawford struggles to hit.  Marco Scutaro returns to play second base, and has really come into his own in San Francisco.  The oft-traded utility man found a home in the Bay Area last year and had an absolutely incredible playoff run.  First baseman Brandon Belt has struggled with the bat early in his career, but with the incredible Spring he has had, is he finally ready to break out and become a star at first?  I don't think so, but he will definitely be better in 2013.  Catcher Buster Posey is an absolute stud behind the plate.  His game calling abilities are phenomenal and he is probably the best hitting catcher in the game, but he needs to stay healthy.  Some starts at first base should help him keep his legs under him for a full season.

In the outfield, the Giants have Gregor Blanco, Angel Pagan, and Hunter Pence from left to right.  Blanco can hit for average and is great defensively, but he lacks the power usually coveted in a corner outfielder.  Pagan in center had a great 2012, and after having stops in New York and Chicago, Pagan seems to have found his game in San Francisco.  The guy just flat out hit last year and another strong year will help ease the loss of former suspendee Melky Cabrera.  Hunter Pence brought a great deal of leadership to San Francisco, but his bat has tailed off the last couple of years.  He can still hit 20-25 home runs, but Pence's average has really slipped after some strong years in Houston.  I don't know where Pence gets the power from, but it's definitely not his calves (seriously, the guy has no calves).

Outfielder Gary Brown is the Giants top position prospect.  Brown can absolutely fly and although his average took a bit of a dip in 2012 at double A, he should rebound nicely in triple A this year.  If he can play well down in the farm, Brown could be looking at a mid-season call up, although with Pagan firmly entrenched in center, one of them will have to make the move to left field.

Admittedly, I haven't looked at who has been cut this late in the Spring, so I'm going off the original list, but a guy like Scott Proctor probably has the best chance to make the club.  The veteran reliever would be a good addition to this already stacked bullpen as he has proven throughout his career to be an effective middle reliever.

The defending World Series champions return pretty much the exact same team in 2013.  The rotation is strong, though it might lack a bit of depth.  Lincecum bouncing back is very important for this team.  The Giants bullpen is very good and shortens games, especially with guys like Romo and Affeldt at the back end.  The lineup doesn't strike fear in their opponents, but they are definitely a balanced group with some stars like Posey and Sandoval in the middle of the order.  In a strong NL West, look for the Giants to be in a dogfight with the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks but ultimately look for them to emerge victorious due to their very well constructed roster.

Got a question for Brandon Belt?? Go ahead and ask him as he is usually ready and willing for some Twitter Q & A.  Follow him @bbelt9

Did Tim Lincecum cut his hair?? Or did Joseph Gordon Leavitt sign with the Giants??

And you've been Romo-bombed

And just for fun, check out these hilarious San Francisco Giants GIFs.  My favorites are #'s 1, 3, 6 and 8

Friday, March 22, 2013

Opening Day Countdown: 9

Quote of the Day:


Nine days away.  Get excited.  That's all.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Justin Verlander needs to play in the next WBC

Quote of the Day:

"Right now, the highlight of my career is playing in the WBC, wearing that red, white and blue on my chest" 

-- Brandon Phillips

In an alternate universe, Justin Verlander is starting the championship final of the 2013 World Baseball Classic.  

He shuts down the Dominican Republic with a 98-mph heater for four innings  before handing the ball over to David Price.  A solo home run from Prince Fielder and a double from Bryce Harper that scores Mike Trout in the 3rd inning puts the US up 2-0.  

Matt Kemp steps up in the 6th and blasts a moonshot that clears the AT&T Park left field wall, scoring Joe Mauer and Ryan Braun.  Two solid, scoreless innings from Price and manager Joe Torre steps out of the dugout to hand the ball to Clayton Kershaw for two innings before hometown hero Matt Cain closes out the game to his fellow Giant catcher, Buster Posey, handing the USA the Title and and undefeated World Baseball Classic.  

Sounds pretty cool, right? 

In reality though, the U.S. got eliminated by Puerto Rico last Friday bringing their overall record in the World Baseball Classic to 10-10 in the history of the tournament.  They have yet to advance to the final.  While the World Baseball Classic has yet to captivate and capture the casual fans, this is not the type of finish that a country that considers the sport its "national past time" would be proud of.  In addition to lukewarm fans, the fact is that the US was also lacking in talent.     

Though the US had  a talented roster, this was not the best roster, or even close to the best players that the United States could have put on the diamond.  (No offense to the Ryan Vogelsongs and Eric Hosmers of the team)  And while that's not an excuse to be shut out over six innings by Nelson Figueroa -- a 38-year-old journeyman pitcher who couldn't make the freakin' ASTROS during his last MLB go-round, as a country, we should make a larger priority to field the best team possible.   

There are valid reasons that star players decide not to participate in the classic.  Concerns over injury are probably the biggest (and most rationale) factors in players choosing the suns of Arizona and Florida over an exhibition contest.  Opponents will look no further than David Wright or Mark Teixeira who suffered dings to their body that could keep them out of the opening day lineup.

Also, the World Baseball Classic is far from perfect.  The timing during Spring Training is not ideal and there's a plethora of other problems.  But no offense to guys like Jeremy Affeldt or Glen Perkins but can you imagine a starting American rotation of Justin Verlander, David Price, Matt Cain, C.C. Sabathia or Jered Weaver?  Starting pitching alone could have made the United States the prohibitive favorite every four years during the Classic.  

So, why Chris?  Why should stars like Justin Verlander or Prince Fielder risk injury to play in a exhibition game of a second-tier sporting event that is neither ideal nor convenient?  

One answer: Because they can.  

These are the most common reasons to not play in the WBC.  I will try and use my imperfect and often incoherent reasoning to try and dissect such excuses not to participate, so let's see if you follow.  

Perhaps the most valid excuse, but really think about it: anyone can get injured anytime.  Anyone who's played baseball for something other than a contract or scholarship should get this (except for maybe the Washington Nationals and Stephen Strasburg's agent)  You don't "not" play the game of baseball to not get play to win and (hopefully) to have fun.  Sure narcissists will point and say "What about Teixeira, Wright, blah, blah, blah."  Skipping the WBC won't automatically keep you more injury free than spring training.  Right, Curtis Granderson?  

While pitchers are different (in both value and the way they're used), one can argue that pitchers are pampered and protected more during the WBC than in spring training.  There is a strict innings and days pitching limited -- one perhaps more stringent than any given MLB manager in spring training.  I don't buy this excuse.  

Yep.  Technically the WBC is ultimately an exhibition game.  So is spring training.  Yes, there are flaws but at least WBC players are playing with something on the line.  Outside of the fringe players hoping for one or two open roster spots, there's not much motivation to try very hard in Grapefruit or Cactus League play.  And by the way, wouldn't the better way to get into shape for Opening Day, be to actually play competitive baseball?  Or would players rather get loose and get their mechanics and groove back by watching journeyman pitchers toss them ball four or smacking a batting-practice type fastball against a seventh year rookie?  Is striking out Double A players that are trying to make a big league roster the best use of a pitcher's spring training preparation?   

What about national pride?  And not the American, sports world conquering superpower mentality that sweeps up band wagon fans every Olympics for sports they know nothing about (you know that guy who yells, "EFFING RIGHT US TABLE TENNIS TEAM! MERICIA!).  I'm talking about American baseball fans that love this game and love this country.  Like anyone still reading this blogpost.  You love baseball and you love America.  Oh, you're really good at baseball too?  Want to play in the World Baseball Classic?  Who would say no?  Just do it.  

Tell that to the Dominican crowds waving flags.  Or the Puerto Rico crowds banging drums.  Or any other fans who really got into the Classic this year.  I know MLB players play for October, not for March.  I'm not naive enough to believe that paychecks should suddenly take a backseat to pride but it's about dang time we win this thing. Patriotism should be incentive enough.  It's our national pastime.  It only happens every four years.  We are America and this is our game.  Again, just do it.  

Maybe.  But I don't see Miguel Cabrera or Robinson Cano skipping the Classic for their countries.  Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs crown jewel, was suiting up for Italy.  Carlos Gonzalez, Pablo Sandoval, Ichiro, Adrian Gonzalez, are a few of the star players that suited up this year. The United States was simply not the best team in the field.  And it showed.  And it shouldn't happen.  In comparison, most hockey stars love to play (and do play) in the Winter Olympics.  

It reminds me of the U.S. Olympic basketball squads that sat out 2004 and watched that version of the "Dream" Team sputter to a bronze medal finish.  It was that bad until LeBron and Co. made it cool to play for your country again.  Again, it should be about national pride.  And since baseball is out at the Olympics, we might as well encourage the best of the best to play.  Maybe this is just the wake up call American baseball needed.  And if they still don't want to participate, I know a lot of Bluffton University players that would be proud to represent our country.  Who knows, they might do better after a great start to their 2013 season in Flordia. (#beaverpride #shoutout)  Quit making excuses and JUST DO IT

(Can I also get a Nike sponsorship for this blog up in here?)  

Fixes for the World Baseball Classic:

It's clear that the World Baseball Classic has flaws (ask Team Mexico and Team Canada how that tie-breaker rule works in Pool Play).  But it's been a smash-hit for international exposure, with ratings that would make Bud Selig actually smile and mean it.  Whether you like it or not, or watch it or not, the World Baseball Classic is good for baseball around the world.  So with the third WBC done and wrapped up, here's a few changes I would make to make it even bigger and better.

6.  An opening ceremony  
That would be cool.  How many fans didn't even know it had started?  Throw some international legends in to the festivities.  Maybe an International home run derby?  A skills challenge?  A video tribute honoring international players and teams?  You can do a lot of fun things during an opening ceremony.  I'll leave the details to the committee to figure out those detail, but an opening ceremony would be a great way to start it off. 

5.  Start the games earlier 
If there's one job in baseball I don't want, it's the position of WBC scheduler (well, that and A-Rod's publicist).  In addition to juggling multiple sites and trying to guarantee full seats they'd also have to keep the ratings high on Asian television networks . But how many people in the Eastern Time Zone didn't even bother tuning into any opening round games?  I'm not saying it's will be easy, but it's worth looking into.

4.  Move the timing to November  
How about right after the World Series?  Sounds good to me!  Not only would it relieve the depression of the end of baseball season but you can also bet more stars willing to play with a full two months before they really have to do anything.  Plus, who wants to compete with March Madness and actual spring training?  Which is a Red Sox fan going to watch?  The Sox spring training game or China Taipei take on Australia?  Will a casual sports fan flip over to MLB Network when their alma mater is a bubble team in the ACC Tourney?  Probably not.   

But would those same fans watch a stacked United States team take on a scrappy, speedy Japanese or Dominican team in a nationally televised WBC Final on a November Wednesday night?  If the choices are:

A. A fourth re-run of Sportcenter
B. NBA basketball: Golden State Warriors vs. Washington Wizards
C. The Longhorn Network
D. Porn
E. WBC FInal

I'm guessing most people would choose D or E.  

3.  Expand Television Coverage
How many baseball fans don't get MLB Network?  A lot.  A lot more don't get ESPN Deportes.  Give the broadcasting rights to ESPN or Fox.  I don't care.  NBA ratings went through the roof when they expanded coverage and moved games off tape delay back in the day.  It will happen with the WBC too.  Sure it will be expensive, but in today's 24-hour media environment and an audience with low attention spans, it would be a paramount investment for the future of the Classic.

2.  A different selection process.  
Provisional rosters are not due until January.  I say, start the selection process for the US team right after the All-Star break.  There's a lot of intrigue and debate that can be had for the roster selection.  Make it a long, drawn out and competitive process to garner interest over the summer.  Make John Gibbons the manager and have him fight the MLBers that won't play.  Have fans vote for their favorite player on Twitter.  I don't care.  Just find out some way for the die-hard baseball fans in this country to know their roster as soon as they can.  Preferably with some sort of fan engagement.  And also preferably before we turn on the first game and think, "I didn't know that R.A. Dickey was on the US team."

1.  One location, one city  
This one would be tough, but can you imagine the excitement in Tokyo, Toronto, Chicago, or even a Latin American country with 16 teams gathered to play baseball?  While it's nice to have fans from all over the world be able to catch the classic in person, a one-site format would reduce travel for most countries and allow MLB to focus their marketing and ticket-selling in one city, rather than four.  Have cities bid for the site like the World Cup.  What city wouldn't turn down any sort of tourism and revenue opportunity.  Pick a city every four years, get us excited now and let's play baseball!  

So while I won't be dying to see the next Classic in 2017 when it comes around again, I hope to see Mr. Verlander there.  It's about time to put America's name up on the trophy.  While many people tuned out, I had a blast watching it.  The more baseball, the better.  The passion from the players and fans was refreshing, genuine, and pure.  It's the way the game is supposed to be played and if there can be changes made to make that passion better, I'm for it.  Let's start with Justin Verlander.