Monthly Archives: March 2009

2009 Guessology: The American League

This week I’ll be giving my best guesses as to who will win their respective divisions this year, then I’ll roll out a postseason prediction. But since baseball is a game of emotion as much as it is of logic, I’ll explore both. First, that other league: the AL

The AL West is the red-headed stepchild of Major League Baseball. Four Teams? And one of them is in Texas? That’s almost as ridiculous as the Atlanta Braves and the Cincinnati Reds being in the NL West for a quarter century. What’s worse is that only two of the four teams really appear to be trying: the Oakland A’s and the LA Angels. The Seattle Mariners aren’t going to be much better than last year’s debacle, and the Texas Rangers just can’t seem to find the pitching to complement a usually powerful offense. The A’s were not a bad team last year; the Angels were just really good. That may change this year, though.

I’d love to see Seattle back in the playoff hunt because of one guy: Ken Griffey, Jr. No one deserves a World Series appearance like this guy, and to have it happen as a member of the Mariners would make it a story that writes itself.

BUT…

What I think will happen:

1. A’s - I think GM Billy Beane has once again made just the right moves to put this team back on top. Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi should boost the offense, and Orlando Cabrera will help stabilize the defense. They have a young rotation once again, but in a weak division it may not matter.

2. Angels – They’re going to miss Mark Texiera and Francisco Rodriguez, but now it looks like top-end starters John Lackey and Ervin Santana may have injury concerns as well. That could be enough to keep a third straight division title out of reach. 

3. Mariners – May see dividends from the intangibles expected with the return of Ken Griffey, Jr.–large home crowds, mentoring for young players, etc.–but even .500 might be a stretch.

4. Rangers – Need a miracle. And a pitching staff.

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The AL Central is probably going to be the most balanced division in baseball this season. No team is a clear favorite, and no team looks like a sure-fire dud either. The Detroit Tigers can’t possibly be as bad as they were last year. The Kansas City Royals may finally have a rebuild worth seeing to completion, and the Cleveland Indians might have the best pitching staff in the division. The Minnesota Twins are a sure bet to be in the mix like always, and if the Chicago White Sox can get big contributions from their youngsters they could surprise everyone in this tight race.

I’d love to see the White Sox pull this one out again. They might need to make a move to get a little younger and a little faster for it to happen, though. Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, and AJ Pierzynski can swing the lumber, but they’re not exactly OBP machines. And, in a division where all the teams could be bunched up at or above .500, you need to play the whole game to be able to win.

BUT…

What I think will happen:

1. Indians – Pitching wins championships, and Cleveland has a ton of it. Of course, everyone has to stay healthy, but that’s true of all teams. Big contributions from Anthony Reyes, Carl Pavano, and Kerry Wood are essential to the Indians’ success.

2. Tigers – A lot of people (including myself) picked Detroit to run away with this division last season, and they ended up dead last. It wasn’t the coaching…manager Jim Leyland is one of the best in the business. So that leaves one of two things: talent or attitude. Well, they had a lot of talented guys last season, a lot of whom are back for 2009, so…yeah. Get it together, boys.

3. White Sox – To go along with their aforementioned offensive issues, the South Siders have questions in their rotation. Mark Buerhle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd should be OK; beyond that things get dicey. But GM Kenny Williams has proven himself a pretty smart guy, and I can’t count out a team managed by Ozzie Guillen. The White Sox are my dark horse pick to come out on top.

4. Twins – Dark horse pick 1-A to win. Minnesota simply cannot be counted out of this race. The glaring problems they have is with the backs of two guys named Joe. Star catcher Joe Mauer has a back injury that will have him starting the season on the DL, and new third baseman Joe Crede has a history of back injuries. Those are big holes to fill if these two can’t stay healthy.

5. Royals - From the Starting To Come Around file, the Royals can sniff .500 if their rotation holds up, Joakim Soria closes like a stud again, and the offense is steady. In a division with such parity, they just have to concentrate on winning series and they’ll be pesky.

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The AL East is a ridiculous juggernaut flush with just as much money as talent. I expect two playoff teams and the AL World Series representative to come out of this division. The New York Yankees reloaded with several top free agents but somehow trimmed payroll. The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays will have legitimate shots at winning this division as well; the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles will not. It would not surprise me at all to have three teams within five games of the division lead most of the year. Which means the division championship is pretty much up for grabs.

I would love to see the Tampa Bay Rays win the AL East again. Last season made it easy for Rays fans to forget the previous 10 years of terrible, terrible baseball. The team earned their success; they didn’t buy it or luck into it. How can you not root for a team like that?

BUT…

What I think will happen:

1. Yankees – Sabathia, Burnett, Wang…that competes with the top three of any rotation in baseball, but injury concerns are there. Riviera…the closer of the decade, but injury concerns are there. Texiera, Damon, Rodriguez, Jeter, Posada…a steady (if not borderline explosive) lineup, but injury concerns are there. On paper and sans injuries, the Yankees have one of the best teams in the league…

2. Red Sox – …but so do the Red Sox. And what they might have going for them over the Yankees is their youth. With that said, the Sox also need big, healthy years from veterans Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, and JD Drew if they’re going to overtake the Yankees and…

3. Rays – …this team, who added some veteran presence in Pat Burrell and Jason Isringhausen (once he’s rehabbed from offseason surgery) to go with their young core. They’ll pitch well, they’ll hit, they’ll run, and they’ll play defense. This team proved last year they can beat their big purse rivals to the north, and they’re likely do it again this year.

4. Orioles – Baltimore will do one thing well this season: play defense. Cesar Izturis and Brian Roberts are among the best middle infield combos in baseball. Unfortunately, they won’t have enough offense or pitching to compete with the big dogs in this division. But .500 isn’t out of the question.

5. Blue Jays – Toronto is going the wrong way. This year, the only thing they’ll be competing for is the #1 draft pick in 2010…which means they should probably trade Roy Halladay to try to get another 1st round pick and maybe a high-level prospect or two.

Agree? Disagree? Indifferent because you feel the National League is superior? Let’s hear it!

The Nooner #10: Get out the vote!

I know I’ve been a little MIA lately…I promise you that will change soon. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of Bird Brained, head over to The Max and vote for me in their Latest Leaders Bracket Challenge! Those guys run one heck of a site over there, and decided to stack us MLBloggers against one another in NCAA Tournament style. It’s all in good fun, but that doesn’t mean I’m taking it lightly! Vote for me!

Incidentally, my picks for the Final Four are Louisville, Missouri, Pitt, and Oklahoma. What are yours?

 

The 2009 Schedule…WTF???

Seriously, how is the Major League Baseball schedule made? Is it some B.S. computer system like in college football bowl games? Do they have people close their eyes and throw darts at a board full of teams and dates? Who is running the show here?

Let me start off by saying I’m OK with the unbalanced schedule and Interleague Play. I’m not a huge supporter of both, but I’m OK with them. I agree that teams should face their division rivals more than any other team. I also like seeing AL teams come into St. Louis to play at Busch Staduim, and would love to see the Cardinals play in, say, Fenway Park.

Furthermore, I also understand the desire of MLB to build up new rivalries with Interleague Play. Yankees vs. Mets; Astros vs. Rangers; Dodgers vs. Angels; Cubs vs. White Sox. It makes pretty good sense from a PR standpoint.

But when the “natural rivals” experiment just isn’t taking, you gotta move on. MLB just isn’t getting this when it comes to the Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals. This so-called rivalry does not matter one bit to most of the Cardinals fans I talk to. Yes, we all remember what happened in the 1985 World Series. Don Denkinger knows he blew the call and we know the Cards were robbed. We’re over it…pretty much. 

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So, other than that event a quarter century ago and the obvious proximity of St. Louis and KC, what is the draw here? The Royals haven’t been a factor in two decades, which encompasses the entire lifespan of Interleague Play. There are no heated exchanges, on the field or in the stands, during these series. Cardinals fans love baseball. Royals fans love baseball. But no one really cares about this matchup.

This issue came up today when I was checking the Cardinals’ 2009 schedule to see if I’d be able to make any games they played at Wrigley Field this season. I quickly realized that the Cards only make two trips to Wrigley this season. How can this be? I had to solicit the insight of Scott The Cub Fan to make sense of it all.

“Don’t they play 18 games against each other?” he asked. “How can only six or seven be at Wrigley?”

“Nope,” I replied. “only 16 this season” The official breakdown is nine in St. Louis (three 3-game series) and seven in Chicago (one 3-game series, one 4-game series).

“That’s a huge bummer,” Scott The Cub Fan said. “The schedule is really dumb again this year…even though the Central Divisions will play against each other in Interleague, the Cubs do not face KC at all but face the White Sox six times.”

I remembered seeing something similar in St. Louis’ schedule, so I looked it up. “Same thing happens to the Cardinals” I replied. “We play every team in the AL Central BUT the White Sox, and we get our usual six against the Royals.” We were both a little miffed now. Isn’t the point of Interleague Play to get teams into new markets and help ignite fan interest?

What’s even crazier is that The White Sox will play the Los Angeles Dodgers in LA this season. How exactly does that make sense? The two Central Divisions…the geographically closest teams…are playing one another in Interleague Play. So the Cardinals have to play two series against KC and zero against the White Sox; the Cubs play two series against the White Sox and zero against KC, and the White Sox play…the Dodgers?

And the craziness isn’t limited to the Interleague games for the Cardinals. This year, they play the Milwaukee Brewers twenty times. Twenty! That means 1/8 of the Cards’ season will be spent playing the Brewers. Look, nothing against the Brew Crew here, but what exactly is the point of that? Want to know how that compares to the games the Cardinals play against the other teams in the NL Central? Take a look:

Houston Astros: 15 games

Chicago Cubs: 16 games

Pittsburgh Pirates: 15 games

Cincinnati Reds: 16 games

Gosh, that looks darn close to consistent. So how hard would it have been to take three games from the Brewers and make them Cardinals vs. White Sox games? That would give the Cards 17 games against the Brewers (which is much closer to the 15 or 16 that seems to be acceptable for the other teams in the NL Central) and would allow the Cardinals to play the White Sox along with all their other AL Central opponents. Maybe some other shuffling would be necessary, but it seems like it’s at least doable.

And I don’t even get paid for such things.

 

photo courtesy of http://all-manac.blogspot.com/2006/05/ahhhh.html

 

Fantasy Baseball has begun!

It’s that time of year: the smell of a fresh keyboard, the click of a mouse, the retinal burn from staring at a screen that’s too bright for too long in a room that’s too dark…yes, Fantasy Baseball is upon us.

I’m not a hardcore Fantasy guy…I don’t do player research, I don’t invest any money, and I don’t download draft kits. I play in a free, online league with the same managers every year. Here’s how serious we are: the league name is Hot Wings & Beer, and my team name is the Pinch Hitters. Actually, this year we had to add a few newbies to round out our 10-team league, so some feverish last-minute recruiting was needed. But it’s all in good fun and gives us yet another reason to obsess over baseball.

This year we made our league head-to-head. I’ve never been in a head-to-head Fantasy Baseball league, but as best I can tell each week the teams are paired off and all stats collected go against your opponent rather than being ranked against all the other teams. For each day we’re allowed one player per position, one “utility” player (can be listed as any postion), two starting pitchers, two relief pitchers (closers, basically), and three additional pitchers. We’re also allowed five bench players, and a max of two players can be on the DL and not count against the roster.

Here’s the team I drafted, position players first by position:

C – Joe Mauer (MIN)

1B – Joey Votto (CIN) & Jason Giambi (OAK)

2B – Chase Utley (PHI)

3B – Evan Longoria (TB)

SS – Yunel Escobar (ATL) & Khalil Greene (STL)

OF – Shane Victorino (PHI), Andre Ethier (LAD), Johnny Damon (NYY), Lastings Milledge  (WAS)

UTIL – Mark DeRosa (2B, 3B, OF – CLE) & Brandon Inge (C, 3B, OF – DET)

DeRosa is a guy I can move into several positions or play full-time because of his numbers. I expect Giambi to regularly fill my UTIL postion because of his power and DeRosa to be in my outfield, but we’ll see. I selected Inge because he plays catcher as well as a couple other positions, fully expecting Mauer to be the stud he usually is so it probably wouldn’t matter. But Inge offers little offense, so he was really just an insurance pick. Unfortunately, Mauer has been nursing a back inflammationnot a good thing for a catcher. So I dropped Inge and picked up Dioner Navarro (TB) as my backup catcher (who’s more than capable of being my starter).

Now for my pitchers:

SP – Dan Haren (ARI), Edinson Volquez (CIN), Ervin Santana (LAA), Gavin Floyd (CWS), Oliver Perez (NYM), Jair Jurrjens (ATL)

RP – Brad Lidge (PHI), Bobby Jenks (CWS)

I was pretty happy with this pitching staff. I have two established closers and a good mix of pitchers who are all relatively young and reliable. Then I saw the news that Santana has elbow inflammation, which was then diagnosed as a sprained ligamentnot a good thing for a pitcher. As good as Santana is, that injury worries me. He’ll be starting the season on the DL; who knows if he’ll be right at all in 2009? And I could use another closer, so I dropped Santana for Jason Motte (STL). Motte has recently been given a vote of confidence, and while he’s not been officially announced as the Cardinals’ closer I’m taking a chance on him. 

Feel free to give me some feedback or, if you’re in a league, compare your Fantasy team to mine. Personally I see Fantasy Baseball as another way to enjoy the game, which is probably why I don’t take it too seriously. But it’s fun, so what the hell.

The Nooner #9: Prince Albert

The upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated features none other than Albert Pujols on the cover!

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The cover story (written by Joe Posnanski) is fantastic and can be read in full here. It covers everything from Pujols’ baseball career to his family life and charity work. But the major theme illustrates Pujols’ image and his non-use of performance-enhancing drugs.

I, for one, believe Pujols. Why shouldn’t I? His name was not in the Mitchell Report. He has never been credibly linked to PED’s. His numbers, while astronomical, have been steady. I have to say that I was wrong about A-Rod. I wanted to believe he did it all on his own. But there were always whispers about him…I blew them off as lies, but they were there. And they turned out to be true. Has anyone ever whispered about Albert Pujols? Not that I’ve heard. Don’t assume that because he’s a top tier player in this day and age that he has to be a cheater. He’s innocent until proven (or admitted) guilty. But we don’t owe that to Albert Pujols. I believe we, as fans, owe ourselves that.

The Nooner #8: Top 100 Dedication

No, this isn’t a Casey Kasem moment. I just wanted to dedicate my first ever appearance in the MLBlogs Top 100. I came in at #18, so thank you to all my readers and commenters. I officially dedicate this achievement to #18 and current Voice of the Cardinals Mike Shannon!

 

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I know I should have done this last week; I even found the pics right when the list came out and everything. Somehow I just forgot to write the post. Call me Bird Brainless I suppose…

Another stop on the journey to Opening Day

Last season was my first as a season ticket holder. We have a half season…40 games. On Opening Day 2008, my girlfriend and I sat in seats other than the seats we had for the rest of the season. At the time, we thought nothing of this; were were just happy to be there. But we quickly changed our assessment of the situation not too far into the season. Our seats are in the left field bleachers. What started out as an exciting season of ballgames quickly became nothing less than a summertime second family. We cheered together. We groaned together. We ate and drank together. We even tailgated before a few games together.

 

bleachers001.jpgI’m not saying the only good time to be had at Busch Stadium is in the left field bleachers. But by the beginning of May, 2008, one month into our first season as ticket holders, we decided that we were not giving up our seats for anything. We were close to the field and had made great friends. We knew we had the best seats in the house.

Of course, the season ended in late September. So long, Left Field Bleacher Family. We’ll see you next April, right? Well, it didn’t take quite that long. We found out that, sometime around the start of Spring Training, we had a party to go to.   

Last weekend I attended my first Left Field Bleacher Party.

We watched Cardinals videos and cheered together. We ate and drank together. We talked about the last season and the prospects for 2009. We laughed at some of the crazier times. It was just like being at the game, only without the game. But it was more than that. Major League Baseball really is a year-round game. Almost immediately after the last play of the World Series, the Hot Stove League heats up. Free Agency starts, and the Winter Meetings provide plenty of drama. Then arbitration talks heat up and more deals are made. While all this administrative work takes place, various leagues in warmer climates allow players to stay sharp in the offseason.

Then, thankfully, the real benchmarks of the next season start to sneak up. Pitchers and catchers report. Position players report. Spring Training games start. It’s all very exciting. The countdown to opening day is upon us! Only one month to go!

And this party was another reminder: baseball is just around the corner. Real fans sit in the bleachers. Nachos. Bratwurst. Beer me! Batter up!

The Nooner #7: Cardinals sign Reyes

The Cardinals signed lefty reliever Dennys Reyes today. Kind of surprising since they already had five lefthanders in camp: Trever Miller, Royce Ring, Charlie Manning, Ian Ostlund and Katsuhiko Maekawa. Reyes certainly adds an air of credibility that these others don’t quite have. What this tells me is either a) Duncan and LaRussa have been less than impressed with most of what they’ve seen from their lefties, or b) this was the plan all along, and the team was waiting for the market to play itself out. Thoughts?

 

Found on www.mlbtraderumors.com and original credit goes here.

The Nooner #6: Weekend Highlights

The St. Louis Cardinals boast a three-game winning streak heading into their game against the American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays today in Jupiter, Florida. The gem of the weekend was Saturday’s game against the Washington Nationals. The Cardinals won the game 9-2, but the biggest story was Chris Carpenter pitching two innings of no-hit ball, followed by Ryan Franklin pitching three innings and allowing no runs on one hit while striking out five. Sunday, the Cardinals and Florida Marlins played a wild game in stormy weather that ended with St. Louis on top 14-10. Joel Piniero allowed one unearned run on two hits in his two innings of work. The team bashed out 19 hits, and six different Cardinals had at least one RBI. But the real star of the game was outfielder Brian Barton, who went 3-5 with a double, two home runs, and six RBI. For more details and full box scores, check out the St. Louis Cardinals’ home page.

TEASER: Saturday night I attended what will surely become another benchmark for the approach of Opening Day year in and year out. Check back later tonight for details!

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