What’s wrong in Miami?

Posted on April 29th, 2015 by Matt | Posted in Teams

Coming into the 2015 season, the Miami Marlins were a trendy pick to contend in the National League. While most would agree that the Nationals are the best team in the N.L. East on paper, there is a lot to like about the team that Miami has assembled around stantonsuperstar Giancarlo Stanton. However, through the first couple of weeks, the Marlins are struggling badly and have quickly fallen behind the division leading Mets. So what is going wrong in Miami?

It’s Not Stanton

As would be expected, the 3-10 start for the Marlins can’t be blamed on Stanton. He has hit three homeruns in the early going, and has an OPS above .900. The Marlins made a record-setting investment in their right fielder in the offseason, and his start to the year has done nothing to make them believe that they made a mistake. Given good health, Stanton figures to be one of the best players in the game for many years to come.

Lackluster Pitching

The starting pitching is a good place to look when trying to pinpoint the Marlins struggles in the first two weeks of the season. Only two starters have recorded a win, and only one has an ERA under 4.50. Walks have been a problem specifically for Tom Koehler and Mat Latos, and Dan Haren has been the lone bright spot among the starters. If the season is going to turn around and head in the direction that many expected, it is going to have to include better performances from the starting staff. Looking down to the bullpen, it is much the same story. With a combined ERA of almost 5.00, the Marlins relief pitching hasn’t been offering much help once the starters are removed from the game.

Sluggish Offense

The Marlins offense is not without blame in their poor start either. While Stanton and Dee Gordon have been terrific, a long list of other hitters are struggling to get going in April. Martin Prado, Adeiny Hechavarria, Marcell Ozuna, Ichiro Suzuki, and Christian Yelich are all players with significant playing time and an OPS under .700. Even the power hitting Michael Morse is only checking in with a .710 OPS currently, having already struck out 12 times against just three walks. The two-man game of Gordon and Stanton is going to need some assistance from the rest of the roster if the Marlins are going to dig out of the early hole in the standings that they have created.

What to Expect from the Giants and the Royals

Posted on March 21st, 2015 by Matt | Posted in Teams

Often it is easy to project the two teams from the previous World Series as obvious candidates to return – but that might not be the case with the 2015 season. The San Francisco Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals in seven games in the 2014 World Series, yet both teams have major questions heading into this upcoming year. If either is going to make it back to the top of the pablogame, they will have to meet many challenges along the way.

Somewhat surprisingly, neither team was very active in the offseason in terms of acquiring free agents. Each team lost players who were major contributors to their success in 2014, and both got into the playoffs through the wild card route – meaning that they weren’t among the very best during the regular season.

The Outlook for the Giants

The most notable departure from the 2014 team is Pablo Sandoval, who took a free agent deal in Boston to play for the Red Sox. Sandoval has been one of the most-visible figures for the Giants during each of their three World Series titles in the last five years. While he might not be a superstar-level performer, the Giants could have trouble replacing his production both in the field and at the plate. The Giants also lost power hitting Michael Morse to the Marlins, taking away some of the limited power they featured in the lineup. If the Giants are going to return to the playoffs and make another push for the World Series, they are going to need contributions from players who have not yet produced at a high level in the major leagues.

The Outlook for the Royals

The Royals offseason followed in a very similar track to the Giants – meaning that there wasn’t much going on in K.C. They did sign Kendrys Morales to replace the loss of Billy Butler. However, Morales is coming off of a terrible season with Minnesota and Seattle, so he will need to rebound in a big way if they are to get any value or production from that deal. Also, James Shields has moved on to San Diego in free agency. While the Royals did make it to game seven of the World Series, there were already major questions regarding their offense in 2014. Nothing that they have done during the offseason would seem to have solved any of those problems. Much like the Giants, the Royals may need contributions from unexpected places in order to contend once again.

The Fading Detroit Tigers?

Posted on March 7th, 2015 by Matt | Posted in Teams

In recent years, one of the more-predictable aspects of the American League was the dominance of the Central division by the Detroit Tigers. Even in 2014, when the Kansas City Royals would up going all the way to the seventh game of the World Series, it was actually the Tigers who won the regular season crown in the Central. They have been the best team in this division for verlanderseveral years now, and are consistently one of the best teams in the American League. However, as the 2015 season gets ready to go, there is a certain level of doubt surrounding the once-dominant Tigers.

Aging Stars

One of the problems that the Tigers would seem to face in the years ahead is the age of three of their most-notable players – Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and Victor Martinez. While Martinez is the oldest by a good margin, each player has seen some kind of performance drop off in recent years. Verlander struggled for the most part in 2014 after being one of the best starters in the game for many seasons. Cabrera is still a feared hitter to be sure, but his defense is a question mark, as is his health. Martinez has already had surgery in this offseason and will be questionable to be ready by opening day.

Uncertain Future on the Mound

Verlander is under contract for many more seasons, so the Tigers will simply have to hope that he returns to form. With Max Scherzer departed via free agency and David Price entering the final year of his contract, the future for the Tigers from a pitching perspective seems to be up in the air. If Verlander fails to return to most of what he was, the Tigers could be in real trouble for the next few seasons. Added to these concerns is the fact that most people rank the Tigers farm system as one of the poorest in baseball at the present time.

The Competition

As mentioned above, the Royals made the World Series from this division last year, so the Tigers will need to watch out for them in the coming season. Also, the White Sox and Indians both seem to be better positioned than they have been in recent years to make a run late into September. The Twins appear to be the only team that doesn’t have much of a chance on paper to be a contender in 2015. With stiffening competition and an aging group of star players, it could be a tough go for the Tigers in the coming season and beyond.

2015 National League Preview

Posted on February 28th, 2015 by Matt | Posted in Teams

As seems to be the case in every even-numbered year, the San Francisco Giants were once again the National League ishikawaChampions in 2014. Although the only got into the postseason as one of the two wild cards, the Giants were again able to call on their October magic and make it all the way through to another World Series title. The most-memorable moment from their playoff run is likely the walk-off, series-ending homerun against the Cardinals by outfielder Travis Ishikawa.

So, are the Giants a safe bet to head back for another World Series? Not so fast. With the loss of Pablo Sandoval, there will be questions about the offense in San Fran as the 2015 season get started. Here are some other National League teams worth paying attention to.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals just might be the most-talented team in the entire National League – and maybe in all of baseball. With Bryce Harper anchoring a deep offense and an incredible pitching staff including the likes of Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals are a team to be reckoned with for sure. Also playing in their favor is the fact that the rest of the National League East – specifically the Phillies and the Braves – figure to have down years.

Los Angeles Dodgers

If the Nationals aren’t the best team in baseball, then it probably is the Dodgers. Another incredibly deep team, the Dodgers traded away former star Matt Kemp to the Padres and yet still have a powerful roster from top to bottom. The pitching staff is led by Clayton Kershaw, certainly the best pitcher in all of baseball. On offense, Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig are just a couple of the many threats that the Dodgers can send to the plate. The defending National League West champions are certainly going to be difficult to knock off of their spot at the top of the league.

San Diego Padres

After one of the most-active off-seasons in baseball history, the Padres are going to be interesting to watch, if nothing else. They will feature a whole new outfield including the afore mentioned Kemp, Justin Upton acquired from the Braves, and Wil Myers who was received in a trade with the Rays. Despite the list of names that will fill the outfield, and the addition of James Shields on the mound, there are still serious questions about the quality of the infield that the Padres will be able to put in the lineup. Win or lose, few teams are likely to be as interesting to watch as the 2015 San Diego Padres.

2015 American League Preview

Posted on February 23rd, 2015 by Matt | Posted in Teams

In the end, the 2014 American League Champions turned out to be the Kansas City Royals. Not many would have predicted that outcome at this time last year, but what an incredible ride it ended up being for the loyal fans in KC. The Royals played countless dramatic games coming down the stretch in September and October, including the stunning rally against the A’s in the A.L. hollandWild Card game.

However, as we turn the calendar and get ready for the 2015 season, things don’t look so rosy for the defending league champions. They had a very quiet offseason, and saw James Shields depart for San Diego along the way. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility that the Royals could repeat as A.L. champs, but it doesn’t seem particularly likely. So, if they fall short of the mark this season, which teams are poised to take their place? Following are three possibilities.

Boston Red Sox

Despite having a dismal season in 2014, the Red Sox appear ready to get right back into the mix. They have added a number of new faces, including Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez both moving from their previous homes in California to the northeast. Those two should provide a significant upgrade for the Red Sox, who will also be hoping the David Ortiz can continue his production even with another year on the odometer. One of the biggest questions surrounding the Red Sox might actually be Dustin Pedroia, who had a down year in 2014 after being such a consistent performer for so long.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners fell one game short of the postseason in 2014, and basically that entire team returns for another run – with the notable addition of 2014 homerun leader Nelson Cruz. By adding Cruz, the Mariners will be able to present a formidable 3-4-5 in the order, with Cruz presumably hitting between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. All three of those players were All-Stars in 2014, so Seattle may finally have the offense they have been searching for to pair with their impressive pitching staff. Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and James Paxton all return to the rotation, along with new addition J.A. Happ from Toronto.

Toronto Blue Jays

There is a chance for an exciting race to develop in the A.L. East this season between the Red Sox and the Blue Jays. It seems like the Jays have been expected to improve for several years now, but this just might be the season where it all comes together. Sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista are still in place, but they have added to that lineup with All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson via a trade with the A’s. If their young pitching can come through for a full season, the Blue Jays could be tough to deal with for the rest of the league.

Boston Doubles Down to Improve Their 2015 Outlook

Posted on December 9th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

2014 didn’t go well for the Boston Red Sox. The 2013 Red Sox won the World Series, but the 2014 version never really got off the ground, and was out of the race by the middle of the season. With one of the biggest budgets in baseball, seasons like the one they had in 2014 don’t sit well in Boston. The team was sure to take quick action in an effort to turn around their fortunes in the season to come – and they did just that, signing two of the biggest free agent names on the market.

From Coast to Coast

Both of the players that Boston has signed to significant contracts for the next few seasons – Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval – are coming to the Northeast from California where they were playing in L.A. and San Francisco, respectively. Also, both were playing in the National League, and neither has ever played significant time for an American League team. Sandoval has played his whole career with the Giants, while Ramirez actually began his career in Boston but only recorded two total at bats before being traded to the Marlins. He then spent severalpablo seasons in Miami before heading across the country to L.A.

Both Players Have Questions

There is no doubt that Sandoval and Ramirez each bring an attractive set of skills to the table. Sandoval is a solid defensive third baseman, and a productive hitter. Ramirez will likely need to make a position change into the outfield, but the majority of his value comes from his bat. However, each player has concerns going forward. Sandoval has never been a physical specimen, and some worry about how he will age as he heads into his thirties. Ramirez looks like an athlete, but has a history of injury trouble that comes with him. Boston has committed big dollars to Hanley through his age 35 season, so they are going to hope that those injury problems are a thing of the past.

If it goes right, the Red Sox will have quickly kick started their offense for 2015 and beyond. Both are talented offensive players with track records of excellent production. If it goes wrong, each player could spend significant time on the disabled list over the next few years, or have their production decline quicker than expected. There is a gamble associated with any free agent signing, but these two moves seem to carry a little more risk than average. A team with the financial resources of the Red Sox can afford to take that gamble more than other teams, but their fortunes are still going to be closely tied to the production of these two players.

The Royals are Back

Posted on October 30th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

No team in Major League Baseball has waited as long as the Kansas City Royals to make a return to the postseason. The last time the Royals were in the playoffs, they won the World Series – but that was 1985. It has been a long time since baseball has been celebrated in Kansas City, even though the city has some of the best baseball fans in the country. Finally, in 2014, the Royals were able to clinch the first Wild Card position in the American League and earned the chance to host the Oakland A’s in the Wild Card round.

The Royals are Back

So what has changed in Kansas City to put them back in this position? It is hard to say, specifically. To look at the Royals, you might notice just how ordinary gordontheir roster seems to be. There is an absence of star players, aside from the dominating back end of the bullpen comprised of Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Alex Gordon is an outstanding player left field, but he is not someone who is recognized as a superstar around the country. The Royals put together an impressive season, but they did it without the big stars that are often found in bigger cities.

This is a team that is built on speed, quality pitching, and timely hitting. The starting rotation is anchored by James Shields, who is a good-but-not-great starter. Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura, and Danny Duffy have also provided significant contributions to the starting rotation during the 2014 season. The Royals tend to play close games, but they also tend to come out on top of those games thanks to an excellent bullpen and the kind of speed that can push a run across late in the game.

Keep it Low

If the Royals are going to succeed in the playoffs, it seems likely that they will need to keep the scoring to a minimum and win a bunch of low-scoring, close games. Should they find themselves in a series with the Angels, Tigers, or Orioles, they will most likely lack the firepower to keep up if the pitching falters at all. Tight, close ballgames are going to be the winning formula if KC is going to stick around in October.

Even for fans of other teams, it is good to see Kansas City back in the baseball playoffs for the first time in 29 years. Kansas City has always supported their baseball team, and the fans deserve to see some exciting playoff baseball after such a long layoff. If the pitching and defense can come through for Kansas City in the playoffs like it has all season long, there just might be some thrills ahead.

2014 Major League Baseball Playoff Predictions

Posted on October 23rd, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Teams

With the 2014 regular season in the books, baseball fans across the country turn their attention to the playoffs and get ready for another October full of drama and surprises. While the baseball playoffs are often unpredictable, this year seems even more wide-open than most, making predictions a serious challenge to say the least. While the following guesses are almost sure to be wrong, here is our projection for the outcome of the 2014 baseball playoffs.

Wild Card Round

In the American League, the A’s will visit the Royals and the Pirates will play host to the Giants. These are only one-game playoffs, so a quick nine innings will decide who moves on to the division series in each league. The A’s and Royals are both low scoring teams who rely on their pitching, which is also true of the Giants. However, the Pirates seem to have a little more danger lurking in their lineup.

Winners: Royals over A’s, Pirates over Giants

Division Series Round

If those results hold, the division round would be as follows: The Los Angeles Angels would play the Royals, and the Tigers will play the Orioles in the other American League series. In the NL, the Nationals would face the Pirates, while the Dodgers and Cardinals will hook up in a rematch of last season’s NLCS. cabreraDespite the fact that the Angels and Nationals have the best records in their respective leagues, all of these series seem wide-open and each could be closely contested.

Winners: Royals over Angels, Orioles over Tigers, Pirates over Nationals, Los Angeles over St. Louis

League Championship Round

Those results would set up a series between the Royals and the Orioles, and the Pirates and Dodgers. In the American League, it would be a serious contrast of styles, as the Royals are built on defense and pitching, while the Orioles love to hit homeruns. In the National League, the high-priced roster of the Dodgers would be taking on the younger group from Pittsburgh anchored by superstar Andrew McCutchen.

Winners: Royals over Orioles, Pirates over Dodgers

World Series

In an unlikely World Series matchup, the Kansas City Royals would face the Pittsburgh Pirates. Each team has struggled for most of the last 20+ years, although the Pirates did manage to make it into the playoffs last year as well. The Royals will have the advantage if they can get even a small lead and turn the game over to their bullpen, while the Pirates will hope to get the games to be higher scoring where their better offense would have an advantage.

Winner: Kansas City Royals

Can the Orioles Slug in October?

Posted on October 16th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

No team in all of Major League Baseball hit more home runs in 2014 than the Baltimore Orioles – and it wasn’t particularly close. The Orioles lived and died by the long ball this season, and most of the time they were living right. They finished with the second-best record in the American League and will host the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series. Led by Nelson Cruz, the Orioles were able to overpower most of their opponents even while getting a sub-par year (and suspension) from Chris Davis. If the homers keep coming, the Orioles could cause some serious trouble for opponents in October.jones

Power Outage?

But will they? That is the question. Traditionally, teams that are built on power struggle to keep up the pace during the playoffs. The pitching naturally gets better, making it more difficult to hit home runs. The weather usually gets colder, depending on the location of the games. Since most teams don’t end up using their back-end starters, or lesser relievers, during the playoffs, it’s simply tougher to use power to score runs. Generally, teams that are able to create runs with speed and singles are the ones that rise to the top.

Big Home Field Edge

With that said, the cozy confines of Baltimore’s home park could be a big help in terms of getting on the scoreboard. Camden Yards is one of the easiest parks in the league in which to hit homeruns, so the fly balls should still be able to reach the stands even if the weather cools off. The Orioles will have home field advantage over everyone else in the American League other than the Angels, but of course the games in L.A. should still be plenty warm. Thanks to the American League victory in the All-Star game, the Orioles would have home field advantage in the World Series as well, should they advance that far.

The bats of guys like Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz, and more will have a lot to say about how far the Orioles are able to advance in the playoffs. Baltimore doesn’t have the quality pitching of some of the other teams in the playoffs, so they will have to have the big bats step up if they want to advance. Those bats have proven all season long that they are capable of rising to the occasion, but it is a different kind of game in October. Only time will tell if they are able to keep sending the home runs over the fence as the temperatures drop and the pitchers improve. If they do, the Orioles just may be the team to beat.

Down Years Ahead for Red Sox and Yankees?

Posted on August 11th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

If there is one thing that seems like a constant in baseball, it is that the Red Sox and Yankees are contenders year after year. Even in years where neither team makes it to the World Series, it is rare that a season goes by where both teams are near the bottom of the standings. This season, the Red Sox have followed up their World Championship by returning to last place in the A.L. East, a position they also held in 2012. The Yankees, while still in contention, have hovered around the .500 mark for most of the season.

Looking ahead to the next few years, it has actually become easy to picture a scenario in which neither team is a significant player in the playoff picture. Both teams have aging star players, specifically the soon-to-be-retired Derek Jeter for the Yankees, and David Ortiz for the Red Sox. Even with big budgets to spend on new free agent acquisitions, it jetermight be tough for either team to assemble enough talent to overcome the shortcomings on their roster.

In the case of the Yankees, the offense has really struggled throughout the 2014 season. The loss of Robinson Cano has certainly hurt their productivity, as Jeter is no longer an elite level hitter or defender. Mark Teixeira has struggled with injuries yet again, and starting pitchers Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia are both hurt as well. Over the years, the Yankees have thrived by paying aging star players to come to the Bronx, but it seems as though that strategy is backfiring on them currently.

On the Red Sox side of the coin, the offense is also largely to blame for their problems. Jon Lester and John Lackey have been solid in the rotation, although Clay Bucholz has struggled. Other than Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox offense has been severely lacking and help doesn’t appear to be close at hand. With Lester’s future in Boston up in the air after this season, the Sox could soon find themselves scrambling for an identity.

So, does baseball need strong seasons from the Yankees and Red Sox in order to stay relevant and keep ratings high? No – it doesn’t. There are strong fan bases all around the league, and a few down years from two of the more prominent organizations in the game won’t have a significant impact on revenues overall. Baseball, like all other sports, goes in cycles, and we just might be heading into a cycle where the vaunted Red Sox and Yankees aren’t the dominant teams that they have been in recent years.