Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Meetings Recap

The 2014-15 offseason has been a busy one. Jon Lester, Nelson Cruz, Pablo Sandoval, and Hanley Ramirez have all signed new long term deals in what has been a overall weak free agent class. Max Scherzer and James Shields remain on the market. The theme this offseason has been trades. The Athletics, Rays, and Braves have all been sellers; with Oakland most radically shaking up their roster. The Padres and Marlins have been known for their thriftiness in the past, but have been buyers this offseason. Both Chicago teams have made some major moves, while both Los Angeles teams have made some changes.

Below is a look at the active teams this offseason

Marlins Make a Big Splash

Miami raised some eyebrows when it gave Giancarlo Stanton a record 13 year, $ 325 million contract. This organization has a history of fire sales in the past, most recently after the 2012 season. Besides Stanton, the Marlins have emerging talents like outfielders Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, shorstop Adeiny Hechaverria, and pitchers Jose Fernandez and Henderson Alvarez. The Marlins have a promising young core of players, but still had some holes coming into the offseason.

The Marlins struck a deal with the Dodgers to acquire second baseman Dee Gordon and pitcher Dan Haren. In return, they dealt away several prospects, including pitcher Andrew Heaney. Haren has hinted at retirement if he was traded, but hasn't indicated what his plans are. Gordon led the National League in steals last year, and will be the Marlins new leadoff hitter. Later, Miami struck a deal for Reds pitcher Mat Latos to beef up the rotation. Michael Morse was signed to take over first base, and Martin Prado will take over at third after coming over in a trade from the Yankees. With the Braves looking toward the future, the Marlins could be the Nationals main competition for the division crown next season.

Cubs Open the Checkbook

The Cubs hired Theo Epstein to run their baseball operations three years ago to rebuild their organization. Epstein had previously ran the Red Sox, and they ended a 86 year championship drought during his time there. There were big expectations despite that the Cubs were in horrible shape, and the new ownership was reluctant to spend money early on. Epstein focused his efforts on the farm system, and now the Cubs have several highly ranked offensive prospects. At the major league level, things haven't gone too well. Joe Maddon will be Epstein's third manager after two straight last place seasons.

Maddon is considered to be one of the best managers in baseball, and led the Rays to the playoffs four times. Managing the Cubs is a tough job, and frustrated prominent managers like Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker, Don Zimmer, and Leo Durocher in the past. There is a stigma on a Cubs franchise that hasn't won a World Series since Theodore Roosevelt was President, and not played in a World Series since World War II. Maddon will be the 50th different Cubs manager since their 1908 World Series championship.

Epstein was familiar with left hander Jon Lester from his Boston days, and lured Lester to Chicago by giving him a six year, $ 150 million deal. Lester gives the Cubs a big game pitcher and an ace, although a very expensive one. Right before the Lester deal, the Cubs worked out a deal with Arizona for catcher Miguel Montero. Chicago has also picked up Jason Motte and Jason Hammel. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo both made the All Star team last year, and the Cubs will see what prospects Javier Baez, Aridsemy Alcantara, Jorge Soler, and Kris Bryant can do next season. The future looks better than it has in years for the Cubs, but they should temper their expectations. It's hard to take the World Series talk seriously. For a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2008, they should set realistic goals.

Who is A.J. Preller? Padres Make Big Moves

New GM A.J. Preller was a virtual unknown, but has made a name for himself in the past couple of weeks. Preller came from the Rangers organization with a player development background. The Padres have one of the game's better farm systems. At the major league level, they struggled to score runs, finishing dead last in the majors. Despite that, Bud Black's squad won 77 games, mostly due to their pitching. Preller has decided to aggressively address the Padres lack of offense with a series of deals.

The Padres unsuccessfully tried to lure Pablo Sandoval to San Diego early on in the offseason, but after he signed with Boston, Preller remained determined to make changes. Preller's first move was to acquire Matt Kemp from the Dodgers for Yasmani Grandal, Joe Weiland, and a prospect. The Dodgers had a logjam in the outfield and were looking to move the oft-injured Kemp and the remainder of his contract. Kemp has five years and $ 108 million left on his contract, and the Dodgers picked up $ 30 million in the deal. That would be the first of many moves.

The next move would be a deal to acquire 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers from the Rays in a 3 team, 11 player trade that also included the Nationals. Myers had a sophomore slump, and the Rays have soured on him. Then, Preller traded for Athletics catcher Derek Norris to replace Grandal. The following day, Preller worked out a deal with the Braves for Justin Upton, and with Boston for third baseman Will Middlebrooks. The Padres have also worked out deals for pitchers Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson.

The Padres dealt away 9 out of their 21 top prospects, but should have a much stronger offense next year. Despite that, Preller was able to hang on to the Padres top three prospects. Kemp, Myers, and Upton may not be the best defensive outfield, but the team hopes the offensive improvement will outweigh the defensive risk. The Padres still have outfielders Cameron Maybin, Max Venable, and Seth Smith on the roster, and will likely move at least one of them. Smith could also move to first base to replace Yonder Alonso, who had a really bad year in 2014. San Diego is betting that a change of scenery will help Myers and Middlebrooks.

These moves may or may not pay off. Still, this is a much needed jolt for what had been a very bland team. This should boost fan support for the team. This looks to be one of the weaker divisions in baseball, especially the Diamondbacks and Rockies. The Dodgers have won the division the past two seasons, and have re-tooled this offseason. The Giants won the wild card and continued their pattern of winning the World Series and missing the playoffs. Losing Pablo Sandoval to free agency is a big loss, and 2015 looks like an off year for the Giants. There is an opening in the NL West, and the Padres are trying to capitalize on that.

Dodgers Re-Tool a Flawed Roster

The Dodgers employ the game's best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw, and perhaps the best trio of starting pitchers along with Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Despite that, they lost to the Cardinals in October the second season in a row. After the season, GM Ned Colletti was re-assigned, and former Rays GM Andrew Friedman took over baseball operations.

One of Friedman's first tasks was to clear up an outfield logjam that has caused some clubhouse friction. Cuban phenom Yasiel Puig has earned a spot, although his game needs some work and could use some maturity. This left two spots for three players, all of who were signed to expensive long term contracts. The team also felt comfortable with Scott Van Slyke as a reserve outfielder, and wanted to make room for prospect Joc Pederson in center field. Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp were no long the star players they were in the past, and it would be tough to move these contracts.

Kemp had finished second to Ryan Braun in the 2011 season, and was awarded with a eight year contract afterwards. Kemp has had several injury problems since then, which has limited his playing time and effectiveness. After a injury plagued 2013, Kemp rebounded to hit 25 home runs in 2014. Kemp is no longer a viable option for center field, and is a corner outfielder at this point of his career now. Friedman was able to work out a deal with the Padres to acquire Yasmani Grandal, who will take over for A.J. Ellis as the team's everyday catcher. Ellis will remain as a backup.

The Kemp trade leaves Ethier and Crawford to platoon in left field, with the Dodgers intending to start Pederson in center, and Puig in right. Ethier and Crawford have had their fair share of injury problems, and Ethier slumped in 2014. Ethier has stated he wants more playing time next year, and the Dodgers could still trade one of them.

The team's middle infield will be different next year. The Dodgers decided that Hanley Ramirez wasn't worth the money, and let him depart. Ramirez is a dynamic offensive talent, but there were concerns about his defense at shortstop, injury history, and negative clubhouse influence. Friedman worked out a deal with the Phillies for Jimmy Rollins for a couple of mid level prospects. Rollins is 36, but a good short term fix until Corey Seager is ready. Second baseman Dee Gordon was traded to the Marlins, and Friedman then worked out a deal for for the Angels Howie Kendrick. Adrian Gonzalez, Juan Uribe, Puig, and Crawford(in a platoon) will be the Dodgers only returning starting position players next year.

These deals shed some payroll, and added a few prospects. It also cleared up some clubhouse problems caused by competition for playing time by big name veterans. Dan Haren was dealt away in the Gordon deal that netted several prospects. Friedman also parted ways with Brian Wilson, who was no longer the pitcher he was with the Giants. With these moves freeing up money, the team added Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson for pitching depth. Despite losing some big name players, this will be a less flawed roster in 2015 than it has the past couple of years.

Boston Adds the Kung Fu Panda and Misses Out on Lester

Part of Ben Cherington's strategy last July when trading Jon Lester was to try to get him back this offseason. Lester wanted to stay, but turned down a four year, $ 70 million extension in spring training. Boston figured they could add Yoenis Cespesdes from Oakland for a two month rental of Lester. Lester wound up getting over twice as much money from the Cubs as Cherington offered him earlier in the year. Lester would not be making a return to Boston, but the team made several big moves.

The Red Sox were determined to add offense, and added two big name free agents. The first was Hanley Ramirez, formerly of the Dodgers, and originally drafted by the Red Sox. Ramirez had been the key piece in the Josh Beckett trade nine years ago. Ramirez has primarily been a shortstop and third baseman in the majors, but Boston is planning to play him in left field. Ramirez has never played left field, and resisted a move to third base while with the Marlins. Ramirez' days as a shortstop were thought to be close to over, especially with the presence of Xander Bogaerts, but no one profiled him as a left fielder before.

One of the main reasons Ramirez is slotted for left field and not third base is because Boston made another big addition. Right after the Ramirez signing, Cherington signed former Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval is a two time All Star, three time World Series champion, and won the 2012 World Series MVP. David Ortiz played a big role in recruiting Sandoval and Ramirez. Sandoval's weight has been a concern, but in the American League he has the option of moving to DH when Ortiz retires. Sandoval has been known as a clutch hitter, and his power numbers should improve in Fenway Park.

While Cherington upgraded the offense, the pitching staff needed work. Only Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly were penciled in for the 2015 rotation, and both missed time because of injury last year. Missing out on Lester, and unwilling to meet Max Scherzer's demands, he had to look in different avenues for starters. Cherington worked out a deal with Arizona that brought left hander Wade Miley over for Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster. He then dealt Cespesdes to Detroit for Rick Porcello, and worked out a deal with the Cubs for Felix Doubront. Justin Masterson was signed to a one year deal, with hopes of a rebound. Boston has also been rumored to be seeking a trade for Phillies left hander Cole Hamels.

Boston went from last place in 2012 to World Series champions in 2013 to last place again in 2014. The Red Sox made a similar splash after 2012 when it added Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster, and Koji Uehara. The Sox should be much improved in 2015, but I don't think they're World Series contenders yet. Their starting pitching remains a weak spot, but the AL East is weaker than in year's past. The Orioles lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis this offseason, the Rays have entered a rebuilding phase, and the Yankees aren't the Yankees anymore. Luckily for the Red Sox, they still have enough pieces to contend in this division.

The Noise from the North

The Blue Jays haven't made the playoffs since they won the World Series back in 1993. The Jays haven't been terrible in that stretch, and have had many winning seasons since then. Toronto just hasn't been good enough to get over the hump since then. The second wild card was supposed to help teams like the Blue Jays, who were usually buried by the Red Sox and Yankees. With the AL East weaker than it has been in years, Toronto has made some moves this offseason to make a run at the division crown.

Toronto actually held first place early on in 2014, but the Orioles ran away with the division in the second half. Injuries to Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, and other key contributors put them in a hole they couldn't overcome. The pitching faded in the second half. Blue Jays management hopes that the addition of catcher Russell Martin will help with the pitchers, especially the young ones. Martin had a big year with the bat in 2014, and had a .402 OBP. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle considered Martin to be his most important player after Andrew McCutchen. Martin is a native of Ontario and should provide leadership to this Jays squad.

Another big addition was acquiring third baseman Josh Donaldson, who has been a MVP candidate the last two years. The Jays traded Brett Lawrie and three pitching prospects to Oakland to get him. Donaldson adds another big bat to go along with Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Lawrie was a much hyped prospect, but hasn't lived up to his full potential, partly due to injuries. Melky Cabrera left as a free agent, and the Jays traded away pitcher J.A. Happ to the Mariners for Michael Saunders to fill the void. The club decided not to re-sign Colby Rasmus, and will instead hand center field to 22 year old Ontario native Dalton Pompey.

The Jays pitching is led by two pitchers in their late 30's in R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. Both were solid pitchers last year, and Buehrle even made the All Star team. It's not ideal to rely solely on older pitchers. Toronto will need to see progress from promising young pitchers Drew Hutchison and Marco Stroman. If that happens, then the Jays will be in good shape. The bullpen also has some question marks if closer Casey Janssen isn't re-signed.

After the Royals ended their stretch of futility last October, the Blue Jays now have baseball's longest active playoff drought. Many commentators consider Toronto to be division favorites in a weakened AL East. The same thing was said prior to 2013 after several big additions, and the season was a disaster. The upcoming season is a golden opportunity for Toronto to make a playoff run.

The other Chicago team Makes Some Big Changes

The White Sox have endured two losing seasons in a row after Robin Ventura led the club to a winning record in his first season in 2012. Paul Konerko played his final season in 2014, and will go down as one of the best players in franchise history. The White Sox found a heir apparent to Konerko and Frank Thomas with Cuban slugger Jose Abreu. Abreu won the Rookie of the Year in 2014, hit 36 home runs, and led the American League in slugging pct. Another bright spot for Chicago is Chris Sale, one of the best pitchers in baseball.

In a matter of weeks, White Sox management signed Zack Duke, Adam LaRoche, David Robertson, and Melky Cabrera. A trade for Jeff Samardzija for spare parts was also made. The pitching staff had been a weakness after Chris Sale and Jose Quintana last year, especially the bullpen. Robertson and Duke should greatly improve the bullpen. Division rival Kansas City proved how important the bullpen can be for a team. Samardzija gives the team a dominant right handed pitcher to go with lefties Sale, Quintana, and John Danks.

Offensively, the White Sox are built around Abreu. LaRoche and Cabrera should give Abreu some protection in 2015. Alexei Ramirez has been a quietly underrated shortstop, and made his first All Star team last year. Promising young players like Adam Eaton and Avasail Garcia look to take a step up in 2014. There are a couple of holes at second and third base, but this is a much better team than it was a couple of months ago. The AL Central race should be interesting next year.

Tigers Change Their Stripes

Detroit entered the offseason with Max Scherzer, Torii Hunter, and Victor Martinez entering free agency. Dave Dombrowski decided that Martinez was his biggest priority, and signed him to a four year contract. Hunter left for the Twins, and Scherzer will not be re-signing with the Tigers. Rick Porcello was also traded for outfielder Yoenis Cespesdes. Anthony Gose was acquired from the Blue Jays, and will take over center field.

The rotation will look vastly different next season. Only Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and David Price will be returning. Alfredo Simon was acquired from Cincinnati to take one of the spots vacated. Shane Greene was acquired in a three way deal that sent Robbie Ray to Arizona. The bullpen is still a problem spot. Cespesdes will add a bat to go with Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, and Ian Kinsler.

The Tigers have won the AL Central four times in a row. There will be much more competition for the division crown in 2015. The Royals are coming off a World Series appearance, and the White Sox made some major improvements this offseason. The Indians are also a solid club, and the Twins are decent. The division title will not be a cake walk next year. The Tigers are still a leading contender, but it is not a certainty in 2015.

Trader Billy Beane

The Athletics will have a drastically different roster than they did when they lost the AL Wild Card Game. Beane, who has never been afraid to make a trade, has outdid himself this offseason. Derek Norris, Brandon Moss, Jed Lowrie, Jonny Gomes, Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Luke Gregerson, Nick Punto, and Adam Dunn are all ex-Athletics. Beane has traded many of his best players for prospects, and even Beane isn't sure on who will make up his roster next season.

The group of players who made three straight postseason appearances is mostly gone. Beane has stocked up on pitchers, catchers, middle infielders, and designated hitters, and his team will have plenty of options next season. That said, no one knows how good these players will be in the majors. Among the new faces includes Brett Lawrie and Billy Butler. Beane's team will also retain a good bullpen led by Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook.

This is somewhat similar to what Beane did during the 2011-12 offseason. Beane faced similar criticism when he traded off Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Andrew Bailey for prospects. Those moves paid off, but will it again this time? The A's are a team in flux, and look to be behind teams like the Angels and Mariners in 2015. Beane's all-in attempt did not work in 2014, and he decided to make major changes. I wouldn't completely write off Oakland, but I don't expect them to be in the playoff mix for 2015.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Heyward/Miller Trade Analysis

On Tuesday, November 17th the Cardinals and Braves made a major trade that had been in the works for weeks. The Cardinals were looking to boost their offense after it slipped from first to ninth in the NL in runs scored. The Braves were looking to upgrade their pitching staff with the anticipated departures of Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and his counterpart John Hart agreed to a trade that sent Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. With the recent death of Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals felt they needed to make this move.

Heyward burst on the scene in 2010, and had a strong first half that led to an All Star appearance. He went on to finish second in the Rookie of the Year vote to Buster Posey. Many scouts thought Heyward had superstar potential, and was even compared to Hank Aaron at one point during his rookie year. Then Heyward had a sophomore slump in 2011, and his batting average dipped to .227.

In 2012, Heyward had a bounce back season, and hit a career high 27 home runs. He also won his first Gold Glove that season. While he had a nice season, Heyward was considered a strikeout prone player who struck out 152 times in 2012. During the 2013 season, the Braves moved Heyward to the leadoff spot to replace the struggling B.J. Upton. Heyward has since cut down on the strikeouts and improved his walk rate.

While Heyward may never be a superstar or future Hall of Famer, he has turned out to be a very good player. He is the best defensive right fielder in baseball. He is a high on base pct. guy. He has some speed, and stole over 20 bases twice in his career. Heyward hasn't turned out to be the power hitter he was projected to be, but Mozeliak feels like that could change in St. Louis, especially if he's not the leadoff hitter.

Along with Heyward, the Cardinals acquire reliever Jordan Walden. Walden originally came up in 2010 with the Angels, and made the All Star team the following season. He has spent the last two years in Atlanta setting up for Craig Kimbrel. Walden will fill the role of Pat Neshek, who most likely will depart in free agency.

Miller had finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2013. He had been one of baseball's top pitching prospects since being drafted in 2009. While Miller had a terrific rookie year, he was left off the playoff rotation in favor of fellow rookie Michael Wacha in 2013. Wacha went on to have a brilliant postseason, including beating Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLCS and winning the NLCS MVP.

Miller labored during many of his starts this year, and didn't pitch deep into games. The coaching staff seemed to sour on him. There was one instance during a Sunday night game that he got a stern talking to by manager Mike Matheny, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, and Yadier Molina on separate occasions. Some thought that Miller needed maturity, others thought he needed another pitch to compliment his fastball.

While Miller struggled during much of the season, he turned it on in September. He went 2-0 with a 1.48 ERA in five starts that month. In a reversal of last season, Miller was put on the playoff rotation over Wacha, who missed two months because of shoulder problems. Miller pitched 5.2 innings in a Game 4 win vs. the Dodgers, and was roughed up in another start in the NLCS vs. the Giants.

Despite Miller's inconsistency, he is 26-18 with a 3.33 ERA in his two plus years in the big leagues. Some say that he isn't going to be an ace, and is only a number three starter. Still, that has value. Just a few short years ago, the Cardinals had pitchers like Kip Wells and Todd Wellemeyer in the rotation. Cardinals fans would of been begging to have a starter as good as Miller back in those days. Good thing that the Cardinals have Marco Gonzales and Carlos Martinez to fall back on. Both pitchers are projected to be starters, and will compete for the fifth spot in spring training.

The Braves will be getting four years of Miller's services, and one more pre-arbitration season. It is possible that a change of scenery could be the best thing for Miller's career.  Atlanta has also received Tyrell Jenkins, who was in A-ball last year. Jenkins was drafted in 2010 at age 17, and was once one of the Cardinals top prospects. He had suffered from injuries and poor performance since. This season, Jenkins seemed to figure it out. He had been impressive in the Arizona Fall League. With Heyward up for free agency after 2015, the Cardinals have risked 10 years of team control for two promising pitchers.

I don't think the Cardinals made this move without the intention to attempt to sign Heyward long term. In the past, they have made similar moves with Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, and Matt Holliday. Given the recent record setting extension that Giancarlo Stanton got from the Marlins, the price will be high. The question is has Heyward reached his full potential yet. At age 25, Heyward could drive up the price too high if he has a monster season. As with the Holliday deal, I would expect that Mozeliak and Bill De Witt will try their best to work out an extension.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Oscar Taveras, Shooting Star

Cardinals 22 year old right fielder Oscar Taveras had just completed an up and down rookie campaign this year. Taveras had been a much heralded prospect who was compared to Albert Pujols and Vladimir Guerrero. Highlights of his 2014 season include a home run in his major league debut and a pinch hit home run during Game 2 of the NLCS. Taveras also had some difficulties during the past season, including some defensive lapses. Tragically, on October 26th, Taveras and his girlfiend Edilia Arvelos died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.

Taveras’ death shocked his Cardinals organization and all of baseball. Taveras had been close to players like Carlos Martinez and Kolten Wong, who played with him in the minor leagues. He was also liked by veterans such as Jon Jay and Yadier Molina. Two players who played in the World Series had been close to Taveras. The Giants Juan Perez had tears in his eyes when he found out about his death during Game 5 of the World Series. Perez later entered the game, and hit a triple. The Royals Yordano Ventura put a tribute to Taveras on his hat, then went on to get the win in Game 6.

At a young age, Taveras wanted to become a big league star. His father, Francisco Taveras had played minor league ball in the Brewers organization. Oscar would tell his father, “I’m going to make you the happiest father in the world. I want to be a star. I want to be a major leaguer. I’m the phenomenon. I’m the best.” Taveras was known as “El Fenomeno” or the Phenomenon in his hometown of Porta Plata, Dominican Republic.

Unfortunately, Taveras never got a chance to realize his potential. A combination of a wet road and traveling too fast led to Taveras losing control of his 2014 Camaro, which ran off the road and hit a tree. Two young people lost their lives way before their time. Taveras also leaves behind a one year old son, Oscar Yadier Taveras.

Taveras is the third active Cardinals player to die since 2002. Daryl Kile had died in his hotel room in Chicago during the 2002 season of a heart attack. Josh Hancock died in a drinking and driving accident during the 2007 season. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was the team’s catcher during the 2002 season, and along with then-manager Tony La Russa helped the team cope with the tragedy of losing a teammate. Matheny will be in a similar position during next season. Matheny, GM John Mozeliak, Molina, Martinez, and Matt Carpenter all traveled to Taveras’ hometown to attend his funeral on October 28th.

Cardinal fans will never know how good Taveras could have been. He was billed as the Cardinals best hitting prospect since Pujols, and compared to a left handed Vladimir Guerrero. Like Guerrero, Taveras was a good bad ball hitter, and had a rare ability to effectively hit pitches out of the strike zone. In 2011, Taveras hit .386 in A-ball. He followed up that season with another big year for Double A Springfield in 2012. Taveras hit .321, with 23 home runs, and 94 RBI’s during his 2012 campaign. If it wasn’t for a high ankle sprain that led to season ending surgery, Taveras would have of made his major league debut in 2013.

Taveras didn’t make the big club out of spring training this year, and was passed over promotion by Randal Grichuk early in the year. In his debut on May 31st against Giants pitcher Yusmeiro Petit, Taveras hit a home run. Immeadiately after hitting a home run, it started pouring down rain that caused a 47 minute rain delay. Taveras didn’t hit much after that, and was sent down on June 19th, his birthday. He would be called back up eleven days later, for good.

The trade of Allen Craig opened up a full time spot for Taveras in right field. Baseball had come easy to Taveras since signing in 2008 at age 16. His brief time in the majors had been the only time he struggled during his career. Taveras hit better, but didn’t have the same passion for defense as he did hitting. He would lose playing time to Grichuk and Peter Bourjos later in the season. During the playoffs, it was Grichuk, not Taveras, who was the starting right fielder for the Cardinals.

While Taveras’ did have his struggles in 2014, big things were still expected of him. The team was planning on him working out in its spring training complex in November. He was scheduled to play winter ball this December. Mozeliak and Matheny were planning on Taveras competing for the right field spot in spring training next year. Besides his enormous talent, there were other reasons for optimism. Taveras had hit .295 in September, and hit a big pinch hit home run in the Cardinals only win against the Giants in the NLCS.

Many feel like the Cardinals missed out on a future star and a potential franchise player. Taveras was compared to players who won MVP’s. The Cardinals front office had previously hyped up prospects like J.D. Drew and Colby Rasmus in a similar way. Drew went on to have a very good career and Rasmus has had some moderate success, but neither player turned into stars.  There’s no telling what kind of career Taveras would have had. Fate had it that he would be struck down before his time.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

World Series Recap

              Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner celebrating the Giants third title this decade

Game 1: SF 7, KC 1
Game 2: KC 7, SF 2
Game 3: KC 3, SF 2
Game 4: SF 11, KC 4
Game 5: SF 5, KC 0
Game 6: KC 10, SF 0
Game 7: SF 3, KC 2

The 2014 World Series was a back and forth affair, were momentum switched sides several times. The Giants won the first game, then the Royals the next two. Kansas City won the first game in San Francisco, and was ahead 4-0 in Game 4. Then, the Giants started chipping away at that lead, and routed the Royals 11-4. Madison Bumgarner beat the Royals for a second time, pitching a complete game shutout in Game 5. The series then went back to Kansas City with the Giants having a 4-3 lead. In Game 6, the Royals clubbed the Giants 10-0 to force a Game 7.

In the end, Bumgarner was too much for the Royals. Bumgarner won Games 1 and 5, and then had a five inning save in Game 7. The Royals made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7. Alex Gordon hit a fly ball that Gregor Blanco misplayed, which allowed Gordon to advance to third base with two outs. However, that would be it, and the next hitter, Salvador Perez, would foul out to end the game and series. In a twist of irony, former Royal Jeremy Affeldt got the win in Game 7.

All in all, Bumgarner pitched 21 innings in the World Series, only allowing one run.  Bumgarner had a 0.43 ERA in 21 innings pitched in the 2014 World Series. The 11 other Giants pitchers combined for 40 innings pitched and had an unsightly 6.08 ERA. For his career, Bumgarner is 4-0 with a 0.25 ERA and 0.53 WHIP in five World Series appearances. His World Series ERA is the best in the 110 year history of the World Series. This October, Bumgarner dominated the postseason, winning both the NLCS and World Series MVP. He has even been compared to past great October pitchers like Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Jack Morris, Orel Hershiser, Bob Gibson, and Sandy Koufax.

It easily could of been the Royals walking away with the World Series crown, but it wasn't meant to be. Besides the two games they were shut down by Bumgarner starts, they blew a 4-0 lead in Game 4, which ended lopsided for KC. They were within a run of tying Game 7, in the most exciting Game 7 since the 2001 Arizona/New York World Series. Ned Yost's team should be proud of what they accomplished this year. This young Royals team ended a 29 year playoff drought this year, and went much further than anyone expected. They have many young talented players, who now believe how talented they actually are. Kansas City has nothing to be ashamed for, and should be contenders again next year. They may even be better  next season.

As for the Giants, they have become baseball's first dynasty since the Yankees of 1996-2001. The Giants had previously won the World Series in 2010 and 2012. Critics point out that they missed the playoffs in 2011 and 2013, but considering how hard it is to win ONE World Series, it's hard to argue this. The Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz Braves teams of the 1990's only won one championship, the same with Earl Weaver's Orioles teams. The Big Red Machine of the 1970's only won two, so this is definitely a big accomplishment. This group of Giants are the first National League team to win three out of five World Series since the Cardinals did it in 1942, 1944, and 1946.

The Giants have now won 8 World Series championships. This ties them with the Red Sox for fourth most championships behind the Athletics, Cardinals, and Yankees. Until their recent run of success, they had never won a World Series in San Francisco. Their first five titles where won in New York. The 2010 squad that featured Tim Lincecum as its ace and a rookie Bumgarner and Posey, broke a 56 year titleless drought. The 2012 team had the best record of the three championship teams, with Pablo Sandoval winning the World Series MVP that year.

The 2014 team managed to win without Matt Cain, Angel Pagan, and Marco Scutaro, who missed the postseason due to injury. Many key players of past runs played a big role in this year's squad like Posey, Sandoval, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford. The bullpen mix of Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, and Affeldt have been in place for all three championship runs. The rotation was a bit different than past runs, with older veterans like Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy in it. Bruce Bochy also mixed in retreads like Travis Ishikawa and Yusmeiro Petit with rookies like Joe Panik, who all played key roles in this year's championship run.

Unlike the previous two runs, the pitching was dominated by one guy(Bumgarner). Hudson and Peavy have had outstanding careers, but were ineffective in the NLCS and World Series. They did pitch well in their NLDS starts, though. Ryan Vogelsong was 3-0 in 4 starts during the 2012 playoffs, but was roughed up in this year's postseason. Lincecum pitched his second career no-hitter earlier this year, but was a non-factor in October. Lincecum's only action was 1.2 innings in a mop up role during Game 2 of the World Series. Bochy also used three different closers in each title run, Brian Wilson in 2010, Romo in 2012, and Casilla in 2014.

Many comparisons between the Giants run of 2010-14 and the Yankees run of 1996-01 have been made. Especially with the comparison of Posey to Derek Jeter. I will say this is the best run since those Yankees teams, but I think the Yankees were better. The Yankees won four out of five World Series from 1996-2000, and lost a fifth one in 2001. The Yankees dynasty played in a higher scoring environment during the steroid era, while the Giants offense has been around league average. One common trait among both teams is that they both grinded victories out. Both teams had a knack for comeback wins, and had a lockdown bullpen.

                           Royals Rookie Fireballer Yordano Ventura

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wild Card World Series

World Series: Kansas City Royals vs. San Francisco Giants
Series Start: Tuesday, October 21st
Homefield Advantage: Royals
Previous Playoff Meetings: None
2014 Head to Head Record: Royals 3-0

The wild card playoff game was supposed to make it harder for a wild card team to make the World Series, but both World Series teams this year are wild card teams. Both the Royals and Giants had a tough road to the World Series, and beat quality teams to get there. Momentum is a big factor in the playoffs, and both teams have been on a roll.

Coming into the season, the Kansas City Royals had the longest playoff drought in the majors. They hadn't been back to the postseason since winning the 1985 World Series before this October. The Royals were hovering around .500 for most of the first half. There were calls for manager Ned Yost's firing, and many considered former highly rated prospects like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer as busts. In the second half, the Royals took off, going 41-27 after the All Star break.

The Royals ending their playoff drought was a feel good story, but little was expected from them in the postseason. They came back from a 7-3 deficit against Jon Lester and the Athletics to win the Wild Card Game. Kansas City then went on to face the Angels in the Division Series. The Angels had the majors best record in the regular season, but the Royals swept them. Then, the Royals swept the Orioles in the ALCS. This young group of players now find themselves four games away from a championship, and have revitalized a organization that had been down and out for years.

The Giants lost out to the Dodgers for the NL West crown, losing two out of three in a key late season series against L.A. San Francisco limped into the playoffs, with key injuries to Michael Morse, Angel Pagan, and Matt Cain. Morse has since come back, as any Cardinal fan would know. The Giants even slipped to the second wild card spot, meaning they had to go on the road for the do or die Wild Card Game.

San Francisco's opponent for the Wild Card Game was the Pirates. Pittsburgh had proven to be a hostile environment for the Reds during last year's Wild Card Game, but not for the Giants. Madison Bumgarner shut out the Bucs, and the Giants won the game 8-0. The Giants then faced off against the Nationals, who led the NL in wins this year. After dispatching the Nats, the Giants faced off against the Cardinals in the NLCS. It was a hard fought series, but key mistakes by the Cardinals were taken advantage of by the Giants, who won the NLCS in five games.

The World Series matches up a young, up and coming team against a team full of seasoned veterans. So far, the big stage hasn't affected the Royals. They have thrived in October, and Ned Yost's team has gone 8-0. Bruce Bochy's team has been a regular participant in October baseball, and this isn't their first rodeo. This is the third World Series appearance for the Giants since 2010. San Francisco won the title in 2010 and 2012, so even numbered years have been good for the Giants lately.

                       Game 1 Starters: Madison Bumgarner and James Shields

This matchup also pits two teams with outstanding bullpens. The Royals trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera has drawn comparisons to the 1990 Cincinnati Reds "Nasty Boys" trio of Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton. Rookie lefthander Brandon Finnegan has made KC's bullpen even deeper. Finnegan will be the first player ever to pitch in the College World Series and the MLB World Series in the same year.

The Giants bullpen is also very good, and has plenty of postseason experience. The Giants closer in 2010 was Brian Wilson, and then Sergio Romo in 2012 after Wilson was injured. This year, Romo has been replaced as closer by Santiago Casilla. Casilla had been the set up man in 2012, when Bochy made the opposite switch. Between Casilla, Romo, lefties Jeremy Affeldt, and Javier Lopez, these four relievers have appeared in a combined 14 World Series (including this year). Yusmeiro Petit has been a big time weapon for Bochy out of the pen, especially when he pitched over six innings during a 18 inning win vs. the Nats in the Division Series. Jean Machi has had a really good year this year, and is another low cost acquistion by the Giants.

James Shields and Davis were acquired during the 2012-13 offseason, and is a major reason why the Royals are were they're at now. Shields hasn't quite lived up to his big game reputation this October, but has given Kansas City a veteran presence and a innings eater at the top of the rotation. Hard throwing rookie Yordano Ventura will likely start Game 2, with Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie likely starting Games 3 and 4. Danny Duffy had been one of the Royals best starters this season, but was limited due to injury late in the season. Duffy will continue to pitch out of the bullpen in the World Series.

The Giants will counter with Bumgarner as their Game 1 starter. Bumgarner has emerged as the Giants ace, and is a money pitcher in the postseason. Jake Peavy started his career with the Padres under Bochy, and was re-united with him after a late July trade. Peavy will start Game 2. Tim Hudson will be appearing in his first World Series of his 16 year career, and will start Game 3. Ryan Vogelsong is tabbed to start Game 4. Tim Lincecum was the Giants ace during their 2010 run, a bullpen ace during 2012, but has been invisible this postseason, not appearing in a single game so far. Lincecum pitched his second career no-hitter earlier this year. Bochy has hinted that their might be a role for Lincecum at some point during the World Series.

Offensively, neither one of these teams hit for much power. The Royals were last in the American League in home runs, hitting only 95 all year. Alex Gordon led the team with 19 homers, and only Moustakas and Salvador Perez hit over 10. Oddly enough, the Royals have won games in the postseason because of their power. The Giants are a team of sluggers compared to the Royals. They were seventh in the National League with 132 home runs this year. Buster Posey led the club with 22 bombs, and Hunter Pence had 20. Pablo Sandoval, Morse, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt all were in double digits.

Speed and defense has been the Royals blueprint to win games this year. A great bullpen helps, too. Kansas City led the American League with 153 steals this year. Jarrod Dyson led the team with 36 stolen bases, and four other players were in double digits. Perez is one of the best defensive catchers in all of baseball, and the Royals version of Yadier Molina. Hosmer won a Gold Glove at first base for his defense last year. Escobar is considered to be one of the better defensive shortstops in the game. Cain showed how big of an impact his glove can be in the ALCS this year. When Dyson replaces Nori Aoki, the Royals have the best defensive outfield in the game with Gordon, Dyson, and Cain. Gordon has won three Gold Gloves in a row.

Royals fans have been sold on Hosmer and Moustakas being the foundation of their rebuilding efforts the last few seasons. Both players have had their highs and lows since coming up in 2011. Moustakas was even sent down earlier this season, and only hit .215 this year. Hosmer has played much better, but hasn't hit for the power that was expected of him. Hosmer has had a huge postseason, batting .448 with 2 home runs at 8 RBI's. Moustakas has hit 4 home runs this postseason, which has led to the catch phrase of "the Moose is Loose." These guys may or may not live up to the hype, but Royals fans will remember their big time performances this postseason for years to come.

The Giants are experts at grinding out victories. They have scored 12 runs this postseason without getting a hit. The Giants are a team that will capitalize on errors by there opponents. The way they grind out victories in October is reminiscent of the Yankees from 1996-2001. They may not be quite as talented or deep, but they have the will to win, and find a way to get it done. With Derek Jeter retiring, Posey may find himself being one of the big icons in the game now.

Posey, Sandoval, and Pence have been the leaders for the Giants, but this team has had contributions from it's entire roster. Belt and Crawford played a big role in their 2012 championship, and are big parts in 2014. Gregor Blanco filled in for suspended All Star Melky Cabrera in 2012, and has now filled in for Pagan at center field this year. Travis Ishikawa was a back up first baseman for the 2010 championship team, and has bounced around since then. Ishikawa has returned for the stretch run this year, and found himself starting left field in Morse's absence. Ishikawa rewarded the Giants by hitting a series clinching home run in Game 5 of the NLCS. For the Giants it isn't just about the star players, it's guys like Blanco and Ishikawa who step up.

Ned Yost has used the same lineup in all 8 playoff games. It's a lineup that puts his best hitter (Gordon) batting sixth, and Perez seventh. Yost's lineup also puts light hitting speedsters like Escobar, Aoki, and Cain at the top of the lineup. This lineup may be unconventional, but it has worked very well this October. I wouldn't expect Yost to tinker with it, if it keeps working. The Giants are likely to stick with their lineup as well, although Morse will be more of a factor for the team. Morse may or may not be healthy enough to play left field, but will DH in games at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals have won all of their 8 postseason games this year. They have been on a roll. One has to wonder if the layoff will affect them in the World Series. The Giants wrapped up their series a day after KC did, so it might not be a factor. The Giants previous playoff experience most likely won't make the layoff an issue. That been said, postseason experience is sometimes overrated. It didn't affect the Royals against the Athletics, Angels, or Orioles. Their has been other teams lacking postseason experience and well know stars that have won it all, the 2002 Angels, 2003 Marlins, and 2005 White Sox are examples of that. There has also been examples of teams that the long layoff hurt them, like the 2006 Tigers or 2007 Rockies. The Giants are favored by some experts to win it, but Vegas has the Royals as slight favorites. It should be an exciting World Series, and I expect the Royals to take the crown.

Prediction: Royals in 6


Royals (89-73 regular season, 8-0 postseason)

Catcher: Salvador Perez, Eric Kratz
Infielders: Eric Hosmer, Omar Infante, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Christian Colon
Outfielders: Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Nori Aoki, Josh Willingham, Jarrod Dyson, Terrance Gore
Designated Hitter: Billy Butler
Starting Pitchers: James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie
Relief Pitchers: Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvim Herrera, Brandon Finnegan, Jason Frasor, Tim Collins, Danny Duffy

Giants (88-74 regular season, 8-2 postseason)

Catcher: Buster Posey, Andrew Susac
Infielders: Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval, Joaquin Arias, Matt Duffy
Outfielders: Travis Ishikawa, Gregor Blanco, Hunter Pence, Michael Morse, Juan Perez
Starting Pitchers: Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong
Relief Pitchers: Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Hunter Strickland, Jean Machi, Yusmeiro Petit, Tim Lincecum

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Championship Series Preview

Kansas City Royals vs. Baltimore Orioles

Series Start: Friday, October 10th
Homefield Advantage: Orioles
Previous Playoff Meetings: None
2014 Head to Head Record: KC 4-3

On Sunday, both the Orioles and Royals swept their Division Series against higher priced and favored teams. For both the Tigers and Angels, a combination of poor bullpen performance and lack of timely hitting did them in. Baltimore was able to beat three straight Cy Young winners, winning against Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and David Price. Kansas City's pitching was able to shut down the Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and the AL best Angel offense.

I doubt anybody predicted these two teams to be the final two teams standing in the American League this year. Prior to this season, the Royals went 29 years without making the postseason, and the Orioles had only made the playoffs once this century. Whoever wins will be breaking a long World Series drought. Baltimore hasn't made the World Series since 1983, which was Cal Ripken Jr.'s second full season. Kansas City hasn't been to the World Series since 1985, when George Brett was still playing.

Buck Showalter has been a manager for 16 seasons with 4 different teams, yet this is the first time his team advanced to the LCS. Showalter's 1995 Yankees, 1999 Diamondbacks, and 2012 Orioles all lost in the Division Series. Showalter has been fired by the Yankees, D-Backs, and Rangers, but he left all three of those teams better off than we he took over. The Yankees and D-Backs both won the World Series the season after he left, and the Rangers made the World Series twice after he left. He turned all three of those teams around, and has done the same with the Orioles. Showalter has always been thought of as a good manager, and he is now looking to finally make the World Series himself.

For Ned Yost, it has also been a long journey. Like Showalter, he has been a longtime baseball man. Yost was on Bobby Cox's coaching staff during their stretch of greatness in the 1990's. As a manager, Yost has mostly managed bad Brewers and Royals teams. Yost had never managed a team to the postseason before this year. He was fired with 12 games left to go in 2008, which the Brewers won the wild card. He took over the Royals job in 2010, and has endured some criticism. However, he has had much better luck this season with the Royals. This young Royals team is 4-0 in the 2014 playoffs, and just swept the Angels, who had the league's best regular season record.

A key for both of these teams has been their bullpens. The Royals have rode the three player combo of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera this season to shut down teams in the late innings. Herrera had a forearm flexor strain in the ALDS, but should be fine for the ALCS. Rookie lefty Brandon Finnegan has also been a major contributor this postseason. Finnegan was drafted this year, and is looking to become the first player to pitch in the College World Series and the MLB World Series in the same year.

The Orioles bullpen isn't as well known, but has been lights out in the postseason. Baltimore had a chance to acquire a name closer this past offseason (nearly signing Grant Balfour), but declined too. Tommy Hunter started off as the team's closer, but was displaced by Zack Britton early on. Britton isn't a hard thrower, but saved 37 games with a sub-2.00 ERA. Hunter and Darren O'Day have pitched well in the setup role. The Orioles made a low key, but very important move trading for lefty Andrew Miller at the deadline this July. Miller has been Showalter's go to reliever in high leverage situations.

Offensively, the Royals have a 1980's type offense that relies on speed. Jarrod Dyson, Nori Aoki, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and Alex Gordon are all threats on the basepaths. The team lacks power, with Gordon and Salvador Perez being their top home run hitters. The Royals rebuilding plan had Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas as centerpieces of their rebuilding effort. Both players have flashed potential, but haven't lived up to expectations. However, both players came up big in the ALDS, hitting two home runs each.

The Orioles still have a very potent offense, even with the absence of Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, and Chris Davis. They still have a deep lineup, led by Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz. Cruz led the majors with 40 homer runs, and Baltimore hit the most as a team in the majors. The Orioles don't have a lot of patient hitters, but Nick Markakis is the most selective hitter and the team's table setter. There have been many unsung players step up for the Orioles this year, and Stephen Pearce is the perfect example of that. Pearce hit 21 homers in 339 at bats, and has filled in at first in Davis' absence. GM Dan Duquette has even said Pearce has saved the Orioles season.

Prediction: Royals in 7

San Francisco Giants vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Series Start: Saturday, October 11th
Homefield Advantage: Cardinals
Previous Playoff Meetings: 1987, 2002, 2012
2014 Head to Head Record: Giants 4-3

Unlike the American League, the National League's final two teams are postseason veterans. Since the 2010 season, the Cardinals and the Giants have dominated the National League. The Giants won the NL pennant in 2010 and 2012, while the Cardinals won it in 2011 and 2013. Out of 10 possible chances, these two teams have 7 total NLCS appearances since 2010. The 2012 NLCS was a hard fought affair in which the Giants won in 7 games. The Cardinals had a 3-1 lead, but were unable to win another game.

The Cardinals are in the NLCS for the fourth straight season, the longest streak since the Atlanta Braves from 1995-99. The road to the NLCS has been much tougher for Mike Matheny's squad than it was last year. The Redbirds offense slipped from top in the NL to ninth this year. GM John Mozeliak shook up the roster in July, most notably trading away Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to Boston for John Lackey. Lackey was acquired for his big game reputation, and he came through in Game 3. Even more impressively, the Cardinals beat Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLDS. Rookie lefty Marco Gonzales got the win both times in relief.

The Giants road to the NLCS has also been longer than it was in 2010 and 2012. They lost the division to the Dodgers, and had to travel to Pittsburgh for the wild card game. Madison Bumgarner shut Pittsburgh out in a 8-0 win. Then the Giants had to travel to Washington to face the team with the best record in the National League. San Francisco won both games in D.C., including a 18 inning affair in Game 2. The Giants are seeking a shot to win their third World Series in the last five years.

Both of these teams find a way to get it done, and grind out victories in the postseason. Neither team was favored in their Division Series matchup, but both teams won. The Nationals and Dodgers were expected by many to make a run at the championship. Neither of those teams have the playoff experience or the will to win in October that the Giants or Cardinals do.

Two rookie second baseman have made a big impact for both of these clubs. The Giants used 8 different players at second base until settling on rookie Joe Panik. Marco Scutaro has been hurt almost all season, and was limited to only 3 games. Panik solidified second base, and hit .305 in 78 games. The lefty hitting Panik doesn't hit for much power, but is much better than the likes of Brandon Hicks or Dan Uggla were. Kolten Wong got off to a slow start, was sent to the minors, and had a stint on the disabled list before the All Star break. Despite that, Wong led NL rookies with 12 home runs this year. Wong played excellent defense and stole 20 bases this year, which was the most since Cesar Izturis stole 24 in 2008.

In 2014, the Cardinals were dead last in the NL in home runs. Only Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta hit over 20 this season. Wong and Matt Adams were the only other players in double digits. However, St. Louis hit 7 home runs against the Dodgers in the Division Series. Matt Carpenter hit 3 homers in that series, and would of been the MVP of the series if such a award existed. The 7th inning comeback in Game 1 against Kershaw set the tone for the rest of the series. The Cardinals lost Game 2, but scored the game winning runs in the 7th inning in both Games 3 and 4.

Injuries have hit the Giants hard this year. They are playing in the postseason without Scutaro, Angel Pagan, and Matt Cain. Brandon Belt missed a big chunk of the season this year as well. Belt has came back in time for the postseason, and hit the game winning home run in the Game 2 of the NLDS vs. Washington.  Michael Morse has been out with an oblique injury since August 31st, and missed the Division Series. Giants manager Bruce Bochy has said that Morse will likely be added to the NLCS roster, giving the Giants at least a power bat off the bench.

Bochy is considered to be one of the best managers when it comes to handling a pitching staff. This year, he has had to make some adjustments. GM Brian Sabean acquired Jake Peavy at the deadline, reuniting him with his former Padres manager. Peavy has filled in for Cain very well. Bochy also swapped Sergio Romo for Santiago Casilla to close out games. Bochy made the opposite move in 2012. He has also moved Tim Lincecum to the bullpen, although Lincecum has yet to appear in a playoff game. Tim Hudson was added in the offseason, and made the All Star team this year. Hudson has played 15 years on many playoff teams in Oakland and Atlanta, but this is the first time his team has advanced to the LCS.

Many in baseball were surprised when the Cardinals hired Matheny as their manager to succeed Tony La Russa, but all Matheny has done is win. The Cardinals have made the playoffs in all three seasons he's managed. Matheny has led the Cardinals deep into the playoffs, but has yet to win the World Series. This season was probably Matheny's best work, coming back and taking the division from the Brewers. The 2014 Cardinals only scored 16 more runs than it allowed, but still won 90 games.

 Matheny has given closer Trevor Rosenthal many chances to work out of jams in the regular season (perhaps, too many), with mixed results. He has shown a quicker hook in the last month, and his "gardening delay" in Game 3 worked out brilliantly. Matheny went out to the mound after Rosenthal allowed two singles, and was behind 2-0 to Juan Uribe. Carlos Martinez was warming up in the bullpen, but instead of calling for Martinez, he called for the grounds crew to work on the mound. Rosenthal was able to settle down, and got the last two outs.

The Giants have not set their NLCS rotation yet, but will likely go with Peavy in Game 1. It is also possible that they open up with Bumgarner. Matheny hinted at Lance Lynn getting the start in a potential Game 5 against LA over Adam Wainwright, but that game was not needed. There has been some concern that Wainwright has been overworked. That been said, Wainwright has been named the Game 1 starter. He will be followed by Lynn, Lackey, and Shelby Miller. Miller was left off the postseason rotation last year in favor of Michael Wacha., and was inconsistent this season. This season, Miller has got the nod in October. Miller pitched well in Game 4, and has been a different pitcher in September.

Prediction: Cardinals in 6

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Division Series Preview

Baltimore Orioles vs. Detroit Tigers

Start: Thursday, October 2nd
Homefield Advantage: Orioles
Previous Playoff Meetings: None
2014 Head to Head Record: 5-1 Det

On May 12th, the benches cleared after Bud Norris hit Torii Hunter with a pitch. Two hitters earlier, Ian Kinsler hit a home run, and Hunter thought he was intentionally hit. Words were exchanged, but cooler head prevailed. Over four months later, these two teams meet again in the postseason. Both teams have plenty of sluggers. Nelson Cruz led the majors with 40 home runs, and the Orioles led the AL with 212 home runs. The Tigers have plenty of sluggers as well, including Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

Buck Showalter has kept his team focused and winning baseball games. They have kept winning despite injuries to key players like Matt Wieters and Manny Machado. Slugging first baseman Chris Davis is in a middle of a suspension for amphetamines, which carries over throughout the Division Series. They still have plenty of firepower with Cruz, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and J.J. Hardy. Replacements like Jimmy Paredes, Caleb Joseph, and Stephen Pierce have filled in without the Orioles missing a beat. Baltimore is also a very solid defensive club, even without Machado.

The trade of Prince Fielder for Kinsler has worked out very well for the Tigers. Kinsler has greatly improved the team's infield defense. Allowing Cabrera to move from third to first, which opened up a spot for Nick Castellanos, helped as well. Rajai Davis has added an element of speed, but isn't quite the defender Austin Jackson was at center. J.D. Martinez has been the waiver wire pickup of the year, and has taken over left field for Detroit. Al Avila has recovered from concussion symptoms in time for the playoffs. The only weak spot is shortstop, which Eugenio Suarez and Andrew Romine split time at this year.

Pitching wise, the Orioles starters don't match up to Detroit's. The Tigers will run out Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, and Rick Porcello for their postseason rotation. That is three different Cy Young Award winners, and a guy who is having a career year in Porcello. The Orioles will counter with Chris Tillman, Wei-Yei Chen, Kevin Gausman, and a choice between three different starters. Zack Britton has done an admirable job as the Orioles closer, and Baltimore has an advantage in the bullpen. Closer Joe Nathan and other relievers have been unreliable this year. Brad Ausmus has announced that starter Anibal Sanchez will pitch out of the bullpen during the playoffs. Sanchez and trading deadline pickup Joakim Soria are potential difference makers to a weak bullpen for Detroit.

Prediction: Tigers in a tough fought series

Kansas City Royals vs. Los Angeles Angels

Start: Thursday, October 2nd
Homefield Advantage: Angels
Previous Playoff Meetings: None
2014 Head to Head Record: 3-3 tie

The Royals won what might be the most exciting playoff game of the year on Tuesday night. Kansas City ran their way to a 9-8 12 inning victory. Their reward for that win will be facing off with the team who had the best record in baseball this year. The Angels went on a second half tear and cruised to the AL West crown. Albert Pujols had a rebound year, after missing the last two months last year. Mike Trout had another terrific all around year, and is the leading contender for AL MVP. This matchup will feature power vs. speed.

Kansas City will start lefty Jason Vargas in Game 1. Vargas will face his former college teammate (and last year's Angel teammate) Jered Weaver. Weaver was an 18 game winner this season. Ned Yost will start hard throwing rookie Yordano Ventura in Game 2. Ventura struggled in relief during the wild card game, but should be better in a more familiar role. Ventura will be matched up against Matt Shoemaker, who has battled an oblique injury. The Angels pitching staff has suffered a few other injuries, notably to young ace Garret Richards and lefty Tyler Skaggs. In Game 3, James Shields will get the ball against C.J. Wilson. Mike Scoiscia is going with a three man rotation for the Division Series, while Yost has yet to announce his Game 4 starter. He could go back to Vargas, or go with Danny Duffy or Jeremy Guthrie.

The Angels have one of the deepest lineups in the game. An X-factor for Los Angeles in Josh Hamilton, who has missed most of September battling various injuries. Hamilton has declared himself healthy for the postseason, and Scoiscia plans on batting him 7th Thursday. When Hamilton is right, the Angels have a trio of sluggers that no other team can match. The Halos also had strong seasons from Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, and Kole Calhoun. Besides Pujols, the Angels have two other former Cardinals in David Freese and Fernando Salas.

Power hitting is not one of the Royals strengths, but they claw and fight out victories. The Royals led the American League in stolen bases, and tied a playoff record with 7 steals in the AL wild card game. Kansas City has a lot of players like Lorenzo Cain, Nori Aoki, and Jarred Dyson, who hit for a good average and steal bases. They have a few players with some modest power, like Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Salvador Perez. While the Royals can't beat the Angels in a slugfest, they can pitch with them. Their starters are just as good, and KC has a dominant bullpen led by Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera. This should be an exciting series.

Prediction: Royals in a upset

San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals

Start: Friday, October 3rd
Homefield Advantage: Nationals
Previous Playoff Meetings: None
2014 Head to Head Record: Wash 5-2

Matt Williams led the Nationals to the National League's best record in his first season as the team's manager. Williams will face off against a team that he used to play for in the 1990's. The Giants routed the Pirates in the NL wild card game, thanks to Madison Bumgarner's brilliant outing and Brandon Crawford's grand slam. The Giants are looking to make another run deep into the postseason, while the Nats want to put 2012's disappointing Game 5 Division Series loss to rest. The Nats have been predicted by many to win their first World Series. The Giants are under the radar, but have won two World Series since 2010.

The Giants have had to overcome numerous injuries to key players such as Matt Cain, Marco Scutaro, and Angel Pagan. Mike Morse has also missed all of September, the wild card game, and his status is uncertain for the Division Series. Brandon Belt missed time due to various injuries as well, but he is healthy just in time for October. The Giants have overcame this, trading for Jake Peavy, and bringing up Joe Panik to play second base. Bochy has also moved Tim Lincecum to the bullpen for the playoffs, and swapped Sergio Romo for Santiago Casilla in the ninth inning. San Francisco has many players who thrive in October, including Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, and Buster Posey.

The Nats do not have the postseason experience that the Giants have, but they have a deep roster with no holes. This isn't a team that relies on a star player or two, but it is one of the most talented teams in the league. Washington has had big years from Anthony Rendon, Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth, and Adam LaRoche. Ryan Zimmerman missed most of the year due to injury, but is healthy for the playoffs. This leads to a question on what the Nats should do with Zimmerman, shift Rendon to second and bench Asdrubal Cabrera, shift Bryce Harper to center and bench Denard Span, or have Zimmerman come off the bench. It seems like a good problem to have for Williams.

Bruce Bochy will start Peavy in Game 1. Peavy has been terrific since being re-united with his former Padres manager. Peavy will be countered by Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg will finally get to pitch in the postseason, after controversially being shut down late in the 2012 season. Tim Hudson will face off against Jordan Zimmermann in Game 2, a battle of 2014 All Stars. In Game 3, Doug Fister will start for the Nats, while Bochy hasn't named a Game 3 starter yet. Bochy could go with Bumgarner or perhaps Ryan Vogelsong. Williams also has Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark available to pitch. The Nats/Giants series pits a team that is considered to be one of the most talented in the league against a team full of playoff veterans. It will be an interesting series.

Prediction: I'm going with the postseason experience. Giants

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Start: Friday, October 3rd
Homefield Advantage: Dodgers
Previous Playoff Meetings: 1985, 2004, 2009, 2013
2014 Head to Head Record: LAD 4-3

The Cardinals and Dodgers will face off for the second year in a row. Last year, the Cardinals beat the Dodgers in six games in the NLCS, with two dominant performances by NLCS MVP Micheal Wacha. Wacha beat Clayton Kershaw twice in that series. Wacha will pitch out of the bullpen this year, after missing several months due to shoulder problems. Kershaw is likely to win his third Cy Young this year, and had possibly the best season of his career. Good news for both teams as Yadier Molina is fully healthy, and Hyun-Jin Ryu is likely to start Game 3 after missing some time.

The Cardinals led the NL with 783 runs scored in 2013. This season, they only scored 619 runs, which was 9th in the NL. Run scoring has been hard to come by for the Redbirds, and runs will be at a premium against the Dodgers. The Cardinals defense has been much improved with Matt Carpenter shifting from second to third, Kolten Wong taking over second, Jon Jay's improved play, and the addition of Peter Bourjos. Matt Holliday has also improved his defense, and went on his usual second half surge offensively this year. A potential X-factor for St. Louis is Randall Grichuk. Grichuk has received increased playing time at right field over Oscar Taveras. With Grichuk being a righty, and Taveras a lefty, Grichuk figures to get some playing time when Kershaw and Ryu pitch.

The Dodgers will have Matt Kemp healthy for the postseason this year. Kemp had a second half tear that sent Andre Ethier to the bench and decreased Carl Crawford's playing time. Hanley Ramirez has battled some injuries, but is healthy for the postseason. He is hoping to avoid beanballs in the Division Series. LA has also had big years from Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig. Puig was in the MVP discussion during the first half, but fell off in the second half, especially in the power department. A big difference maker for the Dodgers this year has been the emergence of Dee Gordon. Gordon has taken over the second base job, gave the Dodgers a natural leadoff hitter, and led the NL in steals this year.

In Game 1, Kershaw will match up against Adam Wainwright, in a battle of 20 game winners. Game 2 will pit Zack Greinke against Lance Lynn. Lynn has the best season of his career in 2014, and made huge strides in avoiding the bad inning. Ryu has dealt with some injuries late in the year, but is penciled in for Game 3. Ryu will face former Angel and Red Sox pitcher John Lackey, who the Cardinals hope will live up to his big game reputation. Shelby Miller has been announced as the Game 4 starter, which would be in his comfort zone at Busch Stadium. The Dodgers haven't announced a Game 4 starter, but will have a choice of either Kershaw or Dan Haren.

The bullpen has been a concern for both teams. Trevor Rosenthal saved 45 games this year, but gave Mike Matheny many scary moments this year. Rosenthal is sometimes lights out, but has been hit harder this year than in the past. Walks have been a big culprit. Matheny will have Pat Neshek, Seth Maness, Sam Freeman, and Carlos Martinez to fill in the late innings. For Don Mattingly's club, closer Kenley Jansen hasn't been the problem. It has been the middle relief and setup roles. Former All Stars Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, and Brandon League have been inconsistent this year. If the Cardinals can knock out the Dodgers dominant starters, then they could have a chance against the Dodgers soft spot in the bullpen.

Prediction: The Dodgers will be tough to beat and should be considered the favorites, but I'm going with a hometown pick with St. Louis

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wild Card Week

Oakland Athletics vs. Kansas City Royals

Date: Tuesday, September 30th
Park: Kauffman Stadium
Previous Playoff Meetings: 1981
Head to Head Record: KC 5-2
Pitching Matchup: Jon Lester (16-11, 3.21) vs. James Shields (14-8, 3.21)

This matchup features teams that are headed in opposite directions. The Royals were only two games over .500 at the All Star break, and went on a 41-27 run in the second half to rally to the playoffs. Kansas City will be making their first playoff appearance since winning the World Series in 1985. The Athletics had the best record in baseball at the All Star break, and then added Jon Lester at the trading deadline. Since the All Star break, the Athletics have gone 29-38, and backed into the playoffs. The Lester for Yoenis Cespedes trade hasn't worked out as planned, but that isn't Lester's fault. Lester has pitched very well in Oakland, but the trade took away the Athletics cleanup hitter, which weakened their offense. The A's have really been struggling, but one game could reverse a second half slump.

The Royals took five out of seven games against the A's this season. Unfortunately for them, their two losses came against Lester. This is the reason that Billy Beane acquired Lester was to win big games. The Royals counter with "Big Game James" in this do or die wild card game. The Royals were criticized over their trade of top prospect Wil Myers to acquire Shields two offseasons ago, but they wouldn't be here without the trade. Wade Davis also came in the same deal and along with Greg Holland and Kelvim Herrera, the Royals have arguably the best late inning bullpen combo in the majors.

Oakland finished the year ranking third in runs scored, but their offense has fallen on tough times in September. It was their only month they scored under 100 runs, and that would explain why they went 10-16 in September. Beane acquired Adam Dunn late in August to help out, and he is making his first playoff appearance in his 14 year career. Many of Oakland's best hitters like Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp, and Josh Donaldson have fallen off in the second half. Oakland relies on walks and power for offense, while the Royals were last in the AL in walks. The Royals also don't hit for much power, but they do steal a lot of bases. That has been key in scoring hard fought runs for KC. This should be an interesting matchup against two teams that play vastly different styles of baseball.

Prediction: Royals over Athletics

San Francisco Giants vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

Date: Wednesday, October 1st
Park: PNC Park
Previous Playoff Meetings: 1971
Head to Head Record: Pit 4-2
Pitching Matchup: Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98) vs. Edinson Volquez (13-7, 3.04)

This is the second year in a row that the Pirates will be playing in the wild card game. Last year, they ended a 21 year playoff drought. They beat the Reds in the wild card game, and lost a hard fought Division Series to the Cardinals. With a taste of October baseball, Andrew McCutchen and the Bucs are looking to go deeper into the playoffs. This year, the Pirates will face the Giants, who are no stranger to October baseball. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and 2012. San Francisco is hoping to continue their pattern of winning the World Series every other year.

The Giants will start lefty Madison Bumgarner in the wild card matchup. At age 25, Bumgarner has already made two All Star teams and has won two World Series games. After Clayton Kershaw, Bumgarner is one of the best left handed starters in baseball. Pitching playoff baseball can be tough in Pittsburgh, and it clearly affected Johnny Cueto last year. However, Bumgarner has pitched in many big games before, and is unlikely to be affected by the crowd. The Pirates will counter with Edinson Volquez. The Pirates have revived Volquez' career after he was let go by the Padres. Volquez has had his best season since 2008, when he was an All Star.

Offensively, the Pirates were one of the better teams in the NL. Pittsburgh also steals bases well, and play solid defense. Besides McCutchen, Josh Harrison, Sterling Marte, and Neil Walker had big years for the Pirates. Russell Martin not only had a good year with the bat, his work behind the plate has really helped the team out. The Giants will be without Angel Pagan for the rest of the season due to back problems. While Pagan isn't as well known as Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence, he is an important part of the Giants. The Giants table setter set the pace, and the Giants went 29-34 without him. Pagan's absence last year was one of the biggest reasons they missed the playoffs in 2013.

Prediction: Giants over Pirates

Saturday, September 27, 2014

2014 Award Winners

Here's a look at should win the MLB awards for 2014

Gold Gloves

National League

C-Russell Martin, PIT
1B- Adrian Gonzalez, LAD
2B- Chase Utley, PHI
SS- Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B- Todd Frazier, CIN
LF-Christian Yelich, MIA
CF-Andrew McCutchen, PIT
RF-Jason Heyward, ATL
P- Clayton Kershaw, LAD

American League

C- Salvador Perez, KC
1B- Albert Pujols, LAA
2B- Ian Kinsler, DET
SS- J.J. Hardy, BAL
3B- Josh Donaldson, OAK
LF- Alex Gordon, KC
CF- Adam Jones, BAL
RF- Nick Markakis, BAL
P- Mark Buehrle, TOR

A couple of close calls in the National League. Zack Cozart had a terrific season defensively, but not as good as Andrelton Simmons. It was also a close call at center field between Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gomez. Russell Martin has has a huge impact in Pittsburgh behind the plate, and helping the pitching staff. Since Yadier Molina missed two months, Martin will likely get the Gold Glove this year. In the American League, Salvador Perez has emerged as one of the game's best catchers. His play behind the plate has led the Royals to their first postseason in 29 years. Another Royal, Alex Gordon is a leading contender for the Gold Glove in left field. Gordon faces tough competition from Yoenis Cespedes. Ian Kinsler has made a huge difference in the Tigers defense this year. The Orioles are one of the best defensive teams in baseball, even without Matt Wieters and Manny Machado. J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis are all have good cases for a Gold Glove.

Manager of the Year

National League

1) Matt Williams, WASH
2) Clint Hurdle, PIT
3) Mike Matheny, STL

American League

1) Buck Showalter, BAL
2) Mike Scoiscia, LAA
3) Lloyd McClendon, SEA

It looked like Ron Roenicke had the NL award wrapped up a month ago, before the Brewers collapsed in September. Matt Williams has taken some criticism in his first season as the Nationals manager, but his team has the best record in the NL. The Nats were able to overcome numerous injuries, and Williams has some problems early on with Bryce Harper. The AL award also goes to a team in the Beltway. Buck Showalter has the Orioles believing they can win a championship. Baltimore has had to endure numerous injuries this season, but they have kept filling the holes. Lloyd McClendon kept the Mariners in playoff contention this year, when few thought that was possible.

Rookie of the Year

National League

1) Jacob deGrom, NYM
2) Billy Hamilton, CIN
3) Kolten Wong, STL
4) Travis d'Arnaud, NYM
5) Joe Panik, SF

American League

1) Jose Abreu, CHIWS
2) Yordano Ventura, KC
3) Dellin Betances, NYY
4) Masahiro Tanaka, NYY
5) Jake Odorizzi, TB

It was a somewhat weak rookie class in the NL. Especially compared to last season, when Jose Fernandez, Yasiel Puig, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, and Hyun-Jin Ryu emerged. Joe Panik has filled a gaping hole at second base for the Giants, after they tried several others at second(including a washed up Dan Uggla). If Kolten Wong  had a stronger first half, he could of very well been ROY. Wong's defense has been very good at second, and has some pop in his bat. He also has stolen the most bases by a Cardinal since Cesar Izturis in 2008. Speaking of fast players, Billy Hamilton is second in the NL with 56 steals. The Mets had another losing season, but have found a battery for the future in Travis d'Arnaud and Jacob deGrom. deGrom has went 9-6 with a 2.67 ERA, striking out 144 batters in 146.1 innings. Along with Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, the Mets have an very talented young staff. They are hoping that deGrom, Harvey, and Wheeler don't flame out like the Generation K (Jason Isringhausen, Paul Wilson, and Bill Pulsipher) from the mid-90's did.

Paul Konerko is retiring at the season's end, and the White Sox have found his replacement. Jose Abreu has had a rookie season that rivals Konerko and Frank Thomas. The Cuban defector has clubbed 35 homers, drove in 105, and leads the AL in slugging pct. Masahiro Tanaka was giving Abreu a run for the award during the first half, but missed most of the second half. Dellin Betances grew up a Yankees fan and his favorite player was Mariano Rivera. Betances 2014 campaign rivals Rivera's 1996 season as a setup man. Yordano Ventura is one of the hardest throwers in baseball, and has helped the Royals to the postseason.

Cy Young Award

National League

1) Clayton Kershaw, LAD
2) Johnny Cueto, CIN
3) Adam Wainwright, STL
4) Madison Bumgarner, SF
5) Lance Lynn, STL

American League

1) Felix Hernandez, SEA
2) Corey Kluber, CLE
3) Jon Lester, BOS/OAK
4) Chris Sale, CHIWS
5) Max Scherzer, DET

Clayton Kershaw has had a dominant season, and will certainly win his third CYA this year. That would give him as many as another great Dodgers lefty, Sandy Koufax. Kershaw leads the NL in wins, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. He has done all of that after missing most of April. Adam Wainwright has been a perennial CYA runner up, finishing third in 2009, second in 2010, and second in 2013. Wainwright's influence has rubbed off on teammate Lance Lynn, who has made major strides in 2014. Despite the Reds disappointing season, Johnny Cueto has given them a dominant performance this year. Madison Bumgarner has been the Giants ace this year, and will likely start for them in the NL wild card game. Other NL pitchers who have had strong years include Zack Greinke,  Doug Fister, and Julio Tehran.

The AL Cy Young race is much tighter than the NL. Felix Hernandez is considered to be the front runner, but Corey Kluber has given him a run for the award. Kluber has had a career year and leads the AL with 18 wins, and is second in ERA. The Athletics have fallen off since acquiring Jon Lester, but that is not his fault. Max Scherzer has had an All Star season to follow up his 2013 Cy Young, proving not to be a fluke. Lester and Scherzer figure to get paid very well this offseason in the free agent market. Chris Sale finished as the AL's ERA leader. Sale might of received more consideration if he hadn't missed time because of injury.

Most Valuable Player

National League

1) Clayton Kershaw, LAD
2) Andrew McCutchen, PIT
3) Giancarlo Stanton, MIA
4) Buster Posey, SF
5) Adam Wainwright, STL
6) Anthony Rendon, WASH
7) Matt Holliday, STL
8) Yasiel Puig, LAD
9) Todd Frazier, CIN
10) Dee Gordon, LAD

American League

1) Mike Trout, LAA
2) Victor Martinez, DET
3) Josh Donaldson, OAK
4) Nelson Cruz, BAL
5) Miguel Cabrera, DET
6) Robinson Cano, SEA
7) Jose Abreu, CHIWS
8) Jose Bautista, TOR
9) Albert Pujols, LAA
10) Jose Altuve, HOU

No pitcher has won the NL MVP since Bob Gibson in 1968. Doc Gooden in 1985 and Greg Maddux in 1995 had good cases, but were passed up by the voters. Kershaw's ERA isn't quite as low as Gibson's 1.12, but he has a solid case for the award. Giancarlo Stanton was making an MVP push before his season ended because of a pitch to the face. Stanton will still lead the league in homers despite the missed time. Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey are the most recent NL MVP winners, and both players have had big years. The Nationals don't rely on one singular player and have a deep team. That been said, Anthony Rendon has been a huge reason why Washington has the NL's best record. No one thought that Dee Gordon would be an All Star or recieve MVP votes, but he has been a big part of the Dodgers success. He has filled the hole at the leadoff spot, solidified second base, and leads the NL in stolen bases.

After losing out to Miguel Cabrera two seasons in a row, Mike Trout is likely to win his first MVP this year. His 2014 season isn't quite as good as good as the two previous seasons, but neither is Cabrera's. Trout has increased his power production this year, hitting 36 home runs. Trout also leads the AL in RBI's. While his power has increased, his average has dropped to .290, his steals to 16, and he leads the AL in strikeouts. Still, Trout is considered the game's best all around player, and he is a huge reason why the Angels have the majors best record this year.