Archive for February, 2014

Is AL West Best?

Posted on February 27th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Divisions, Teams

For years, the AL East has been considered the best division in baseball. After all, the Yankees and Red Sox are perennially quality teams, the Rays have been consistent for several years, and the Orioles and Blue Jays have also made moves to strengthen their position. However, with some free agent moves and young talent, the AL West might soon be considered the toughest division in the game.

Oakland Athletics

Having won the division two years in a row, the A’s still seem to somehow fly under the radar. They have an impressive minor league system which has been generating most of the talent that has led to their success. Also, some impressive trades and a couple of free agent signings have all combinedcespedes to make the A’s the leader in the West division. The next step for the Athletics is to parlay their regular season success into some postseason hardware.

Texas Rangers

Many people might point to the Rangers as the best team out west despite having finished runner up to Oakland two years in a row. The Rangers have done their best during this off-season to improve their team and catch the A’s – most notably, they have added Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo to the lineup, although they also suffered the loss of closer Joe Nathan. The rotation is still anchored by ace Yu Darvish, and the Rangers look positioned for another quality season.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

While the shine might have worn off of the free agent acquisitions of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, the Angels still have a team with the potential to get back into the playoff conversation. Mike Trout might be the best player in all of baseball, and Jered Weaver is a legitimate ace pitcher when healthy. The Angels might need to find production from a couple more pieces to really contend with the Rangers and A’s, but they should not be overlooked.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners have made the biggest splash of the off-season, pulling Robinson Cano away from New York with some $240 million. The question for the Mariners is whether or not that is enough to move up the standings and be a legitimate contender in 2014. The M’s already have excellent starting pitchers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and have been rumored to be the front runners for Masahiro Tanaka. With good performances from some young players like Brad Miller, Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, and Justin Smoak, the Mariners could surprise and be a major player in the 2014 pennant race.

Houston Astros

While the other four teams in the division appear to be playing for the present, the Astros seem to be more oriented toward their long-term future. However, that isn’t to say that Houston will remain out of the race for long. With an impressive farm system and very little in the way of long-term payroll commitments, the Astros could be on a faster-track to success than many observers would have guessed.

The Astros might be a year or two away from being a real contender, but a case could be made for any of the other four teams winning the division in 2014. For the runners-up, the wild card seems like a possible landing spot. With some free agent additions and plenty of young talent, the AL West just might be the division that rises above the rest in the coming season.

Moving On from Mo

Posted on February 14th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Hats and Caps, Players

For the first time in what seems like forever, the Yankees will be heading into the 2014 season without Mariano Rivera as their closer. While they did go through a period of time without Mo in 2012 when he was injured, this time it is permanent. The Yankees will need to find a solution at the end of the game to try and lock down at least most of those saves that Mariano was logging so regularly. It certainly seems unlikely that they will find anyone to be as successful as the sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, but move on they must.

What’s Next?

It is not an enviable position to be the player that has to replace Mariano Rivera, but that task is likely the one that is facing David Robertson. The team hasn’t officially named Robertson the closer robertsonfor the 2014 season, but he seems like the logical choice unless the Yankess are able to make a move in free agency or via trade. The good news for the Bronx Bombers is that Robertson is a very capable right-handed pitcher. He has been a reliable setup man for the Yankees over the past three seasons, racking up impressive strikeout totals while running an ERA of well under 3.00.

The Biggest Hurdle

Certainly it would seem that the biggest challenge for the Yankees and whomever takes on the closer role is the fear of the unknown. While Mariano Rivera didn’t actually save every game successfully, it felt like he did. When the Yankees took the field in the 9th inning with a lead, it seemed like the game was over. At times, it seemed like even the opposing team was resigned to its fate. When the new closer takes to the mound for the first time, and probably for a good while after that, everyone in the stadium will be nervous in a way that they haven’t been in years. The aura of Mariano Rivera taking the mound in the 9th was almost as impressive as his pitching – and that is something that just can’t be replaced.

A Good Start is Crucial

Whether it is David Robertson or someone else who starts the 2014 season as the Yankees new closer, a good start to the season will be paramount for their confidence, and the team’s success. If the new closer is able to go out and nail down the first few saves, it will probably go a long way toward moving on and writing a new chapter. However, if there are a few blown saves in April and the fans start to get restless, the task will likely become all that much more daunting. For an organization that sets its sights on the title each year, every loss is put under the microscope. When those losses come due to a blown save in the last inning, the pressure can quickly multiply.

If it is David Robertson that assumes the mantle of closer, he seems positioned well to be successful. Having experience working closely with Mariano Rivera, and already used to the Yankee Stadium atmosphere, Robertson might be more comfortable than a free agent who is just forced into the spotlight. Whatever the Yankees end up doing with the closer role in 2014, it certainly will be exciting to watch.

Don Mattingly to Remain with Dodgers

Posted on February 7th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Coaches

Despite being rumored to be on the hot seat for much of the 2013 season, and even having his status somewhat up in the air after the season ended, reports are that the Dodgers have signed Mattingly to a contract extension through the 2016 season. Thanks to the large payroll and young talent that is currently suiting up for the Dodger blue, it seems like a good time to be the manager in the City of Angels. However, there is no lack of pressure to parlay that payroll into some postseason success. The Dodgers of 2013 made an incredible 2nd half run to an easy division title, but were bounced from the playoffs one round short of the World Series. While an NLCS appearance is nothing to sneeze at, the goals are clearly higher for this bunch.

What Mattingly Has to Work With

Nearly every manager in baseball must be privately jealous of the talent that has been assembled for Mattingly to work with. On the pitching side of the ledger, mattinglythere is Clayton Kershaw, whose name speaks for itself at this point. To go along with Kershaw, the Dodgers can send Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke, and Dan Haren to the mound as well. That is a list of starting pitchers that rivals any rotation in baseball, and makes for some long series when opposing teams arrive at Dodger Stadium. The lineup, for its part, isn’t lacking for star power either. Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and others combine to create one of the most formidable orders in the game. On paper, the Dodgers are a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

What Mattingly Brings to the Table

Don Mattingly was a great player for the Yankees for more than a decade. With a lifetime batting average of over .300, and 222 career home runs, Mattingly has no lack of authority in the clubhouse. The one thing that Mattingly lacks, however, might be what the Dodgers need the most – playoff experience. Despite playing in parts of 14 seasons for the Yankees, Don Mattingly only once made the postseason, losing to the Mariners in the 1995 Divisional Series. He never played in the ALCS, and never reached the World Series. Is that going to present a problem in trying to take the Dodgers to the promised land? Only time will tell. Plenty of great managers never played in the World Series, so it may be a non-factor when all is said and done.

Mattingly Collectibles Still Attractive

The presence of Don Mattingly in the dugout of the Los Angeles Dodgers is serving to introduce his name to a whole generation of baseball fans who never had the chance to see him play. A variety of great Don Mattingly collectibles can still be found on websites such as eBay, most with him dressed in the classic Yankee pinstripes, although a few  items with Dodger blue are popping up from time to time. Given his sizable place in baseball history, a piece of Mattingly memorabilia should have a place in every baseball collection.